ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia state judge is weighing whether it's appropriate for him to intervene in a dispute over more than 50,000 voter registration records in one of the nation's most politically contested states.
Lawyers for the NAACP and a voter registration group that recruited new minority voters allege that elections officials have misplaced or mishandled more than half of the 86,000 voter registration applications that they collected ahead of an Oct. 6 deadline. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and elections officials in several counties — most of them majority Democratic — say they are correctly processing all the forms.
Attorneys for the groups said they feared that would-be voters, several of whom attended Friday's hearing, would not have their ballots counted, and they asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher to compel the counties and Kemp to confirm the voters' registration or explain any denials.
"What does the law require that they haven't done?" Brasher asked, noting that Georgia election law doesn't set specific deadlines for county elections boards to process applications.
The case is closely watched given Democrats' strategy of increasing minority participation to help the party win competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate. Early voting began last week.
Brasher's order could come as early as Friday afternoon, though it could be appealed by the losing side.
Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn are vying for the Senate seat held by GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who is retiring. Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
The Senate outcome will help determine which party controls the chamber in January, with Republicans counting on Georgia as one of the six seats they need to net to grab the majority.
Both races will help set up the 2016 presidential election, with Democrats trying to prove newfound viability in the GOP-run state that President Barack Obama lost twice by single-digit margins.
A massive registration drive by the New Georgia Project, though technically a nonpartisan organization, was part of that strategy with its focus on minority, younger and otherwise disengaged citizens, all groups who are likely to lean Democratic.
But they claim that at least 40,000 people who filled out registration forms are not found on the latest voter lists from Kemp's office, while another 10,000-plus are listed on a "pending" list maintained by the state.
Assistant Attorney General Russ Willard and lawyers for several counties being sued said state law charges county election authorities with processing applications and determining eligibility. Willard and Jack Hancock, one of county lawyers, explained that counties first verify an applicant's identity using Georgia driver records. An application that cannot be linked to a valid driver's license is then verified against Social Security Administration records. If there is still no match, counties typically try to reach the applicant to complete an application.
The counties, the lawyers said, are still working through that process, which, Willard noted, was approved by the Justice Department when federal law still required Georgia to have its election procedures approved in Washington.
Hancock, representing Democratic-dominated Clayton County, told Brasher that even in cases where would-be voters don't show up on voting lists, they can still cast provisional ballots. State law gives a voter three days after casting a provisional vote to prove they are or should be legally registered.
Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson, also an attorney, argued the registration system is cumbersome and that the existence of a provisional ballot structure is not an acceptable remedy.
The lawsuit comes after Kemp publicly launched an investigation of Abrams' group, alleging it submitted forged applications. State officials later said they confirmed 25 forgeries, about 3/100ths of 1 percent of those Abrams and her allies say they collected.