MALDEF Wins Preliminary Injunction Against State Of Georgia For Its Failure To Comply With The Voting Rights Act

October 28, 2008

ATLANTA, GA – Yesterday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) won a favorable court ruling effectively ending the State of Georgia’s illegal attempt to use an unlawful verification check that would have denied the right to vote for thousands of citizens. The court issued a preliminary injunction requiring the State of Georgia to allow persons whose citizenship has been questioned pursuant to Georgia’s database matching system to cast a ballot in the Nov. 4 election.

“We are pleased that the court has seen through Georgia’s so-called voter security effort and put an end to voter suppression,” stated MALDEF President & General Counsel John Trasviña. “The court's decision recognizes the importance of ensuring that every citizen has the right to vote,” stated MALDEF Southeastern Regional Counsel Elise Shore.

On October 9, MALDEF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and attorney Brian Spears, filed suit in U.S. District Court (N.D. GA.) seeking an order to stop the Secretary of State from using database matching verification procedures that inaccurately flag U.S. citizens as non-citizens; the matching system is used for both voter registrants and current registered voters on the rolls. The suit alleges that the flawed matching verification procedures were illegally implemented because the Secretary of State failed to seek approval from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) before starting to use them.

In addition to finding that the State violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by failing to obtain DOJ approval prior to implementing the voting changes, the Court also ordered Secretary Karen C. Handel to “make diligent and immediate efforts to notify, in a uniform manner, every person whose voter registration presently remains flagged.” These individuals must also be informed that they can vote on Nov. 4th and what steps they may have to take to correct any discrepancy regarding their registration. According to the order, the Secretary must also issue uniform guidance to all county election officials regarding this issue.

“We are pleased the court found a violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and that all those who were flagged as potentially ineligible will have the opportunity to vote, whether during early voting, by absentee vote or on election day,” stated Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

“Yesterday’s decision recognizes that Section 5 review remains an essential step for states making changes to their voter registration procedures. Faulty or biased records matching has the potential to wrongfully disenfranchise thousands of voters at a time, and voters whose registrations are questioned can easily feel intimidated, ” said Jon Greenbaum, Director of the Voting Rights Project for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Anyone who has received a letter from the Secretary of State or a County Election official about their eligibility to vote based on citizenship or believes they are being illegally denied the right to vote should contact MALDEF’s Atlanta office immediately at 1-877-462-5333.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund