In the home stretch of the election, Abrams’s campaign tells me that they have a tight focus on the mobilization of infrequent voters—not necessarily on the injection of new voters onto rolls that the New Georgia Project attempted, or that “exact match” puts at risk. But the campaign did issue a press release on Thursday denouncing Kemp, calling out the “exact match” policy, and calling on him to resign from his position as secretary of state so as to eliminate any potential conflicts of interest. “As he has done for years,” the press release reads, “Brian Kemp is maliciously wielding the power of his office to suppress the vote for political gain and silence the voices of thousands of eligible voters—the majority of them people of color.”
In the grand scheme of things, the number of people potentially stymied by the exact-match policy is relatively small—although the razor-thin margins of current polls and the potential election results make any potential advantage a significant one. But there’s more in play than just the one policy. In fact, “exact match” has often been conflated with other voter-purge schemes that work in the opposite direction, moving already registered voters off the rolls because of discrepancies. While removing ineligible names from rolls is important for keeping them accurate and secure, studies of purges have found that they often uniquely disadvantage black voters, infrequent voters, and those who move often.
“There are two issues compounding each other,” says Myrna Pérez, a deputy director at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The first is just a massive number of voters are being purged, period.” In a brief released earlier this month, the Brennan Center found that between 2010, when Kemp began his tenure, and 2014, Georgia’s purge rate increased from 6.7 to 10.7 percent. Since then, annual purge rates have held steady at about 10 percent of all registrations.
The spike in purges has come not only during Kemp’s tenure, but after the landmark 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which defanged federal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and essentially ended federal proactive restrictions on state and local voting policies that were intended to be discriminatory or that disproportionately disenfranchised citizens of color. According to the Brennan Center, “Georgia purged twice as many voters—1.5 million—between the 2012 and 2016 elections as it did between 2008 and 2012.”
According to Pérez, the effects of mass voter purging not only remove eligible voters and make it harder to vote, but can also counter education and mobilization efforts designed specifically to capture black voters. “In my mind, the real disenfranchisement comes before people even get on the rolls,” Pérez told me. Voter rolls are a baseline set of data for persuasion campaigns for likely voters and for “get out the vote” campaigns that target registered voters and get them to turn out. “There’s some amount of evidence that those kinds of outreach do encourage people to turn out,” Pérez said. “If you’re not actually on the rolls you don’t get that kind of engagement. So you have people who are not being engaged in that kind of way because they are being blocked.”