The GOP barely won the Georgia statehouse despite their campaign of suppressing 1.4 million votes. Jacqueline Luqman talks to Anoa Changa about how a new round of voter registration purges is a continuation of the same campaign.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network
In 2018, before an audience of donors, Brian Kemp expressed concern about the massive Get Out The Vote campaign for his gubernatorial challenger Stacey Abrams, saying that everybody who uses and exercises their right to vote, which they absolutely can, Kemp went on to tell his backers that they needed unprecedented turnout to counter Abrams’ grassroots juggernaut. But what he really did was to embark on an unprecedented campaign to purge mostly Black, poor, and student voters from Georgia’s voter rolls that invalidated the voter registrations for 1.4 million Georgians, paving the way for his narrow victory over Abrams. But even as the GOP has claimed victory over the battle for the Georgia State House in 2018, they have not let up on their efforts to disenfranchise voters. The new Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, has just announced another sweeping round of voter purges.
Here to talk with me today about those potential purges is Anoa Changa. Anoa is an attorney and is also the host of the podcast The Way with Anoa. Anoa, thank you so much for joining me.
ANOA CHANGA: Thanks for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Brian Kemp “won” the Georgia State House by around 55,000 votes after a massive campaign of voter suppression through a combination, over several years, of voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, purges, cuts in early voting, and polling place closures. Now Raffensperger, the New Secretary of State, is proposing more purges. After so many people, 1.4 million people were purged under Kemp, how could there possibly be any more disputed voter records left and what is this continued effort really about?
ANOA CHANGA: So I’m super excited that The Real News was really interested and you were interested in covering this because this is something that my friend Nse Ufot as well as Stacey Abrams and so many other people here in Georgia have been trying to raise the alarm about for–like you said–several years now. When we look at just the way things have been post-Shelby, the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court Case that gutted the VRA, we have seen an uptick across the country in voter suppression type tactics, which really have a modern spin. It’s not the voter suppression that we know from old black and white documentaries. It is this very sophisticated, very nuanced mechanisms that are used that are technically “legal” on their face. The current method right now in terms of this purging that is happening was, actually, there was an Ohio case that actually was upheld, Ohio’s method of purging the same 4% cleaning up of the rolls nonsense that they’re quoting.
However, what we have found–what they found in Ohio, what they have found in Texas and Tennessee and elsewhere–but what we have found here in Georgia is there are several different mechanisms that also interface with this that actually make some of this purge erroneous. Some of it is things like people are sending active notices based on actually being inactive voters. And whether or not that’s even something that should happen is a conversation unto itself, because as we know from our own history, just because something is technically legal doesn’t make it right when it comes to protecting our rights. And honestly, the right to vote should be sacrosanct. Unfortunately, we see that it’s not. But what we have happening here is we have, I think, it’s approximately 185,000, 190,000, somewhere in between there, of people who received some form of notice from the Board of Elections or from the Secretary of State’s Office that either they did not respond to or it was returned mail.
So you have a little more than two thirds of the people that are set to be purged, set to be purged not based on any type of deficiency but based on either they didn’t respond to a little rinky-dink card that looks like one of those fake cards that you get talking about your auto warranty insurance. You know you get those and you’re like, “What is this? This is nonsense. Why would I even read this?” So it’s a card that’s similar to that or they’re people who had returned mail for various reasons. Now here’s the kicker about the return mail portion, and there’s a really cool video of that. If you check out an organization I work with, the New Georgia Project, if you check out their Twitter and their social media, you’ll see this video with Dr. Holiday from Macon. He talks about receiving one of these purge notices and finding out that his notice had actually been returned, was returned mail, and that’s what they used to try and purge him. Some of these notices that are sent out by the Secretary of State’s Office and these Board of Electors actually don’t even comply with the requirements for sending out these type of documents through the U.S. Postal Service.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So what do you mean? What do you mean they don’t even comply with the requirements?
ANOA CHANGA: Well, because we’re cleaning up the list. The actual notice itself is constructed in such a way, the way it’s laid out, and like I said, there’s a two and a half minute video from the New Georgia Project that lays this out really, really well, and it goes through exactly what the issues are, but it kicks it back. So it’s returned mail because some machine wouldn’t accept it, not because there’s anything wrong with the person’s actual address, not because of anything the person themselves actually did, the machine itself will kick it back. Now this is not all the cases. Some of them are people have changed and they need to change and update their address. But here’s the other thing. There was actually legal action taken, I think, two years ago now when there were notices sent to people who had moved within the same county, because other than National Voter Registration Act, when you move within the same county, you do not have to do any extended mechanisms to make sure your voter registration stays valid. You’re still valid to vote in that county because it’s based on the county where you live. You know what I’m saying? Not your street per se.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right. You don’t move to a different voting district.
ANOA CHANGA: Right. You will have a different polling location where you’re supposed to vote at based on your address but your eligibility as a voter is determined based on the county you’re registered in. So if you’re still here in Georgia, I’m in Fulton County, if I move to another part of Fulton County, while it is very good practice and I should change my address, it is not going to invalidate or make me inactive if I don’t change my address right in time to vote the next time. I’m still within the same county.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right.
ANOA CHANGA: However, if I move to a completely different county, that is when I would have to actually go and change my registration to be able to vote in the new county which I reside. However, we have seen under Brian Kemp that there were hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia who actually got erroneous notices for that reason, which actually flies in the face of the law. So while it might be technically legal to purge people in this manner based on the fact that the state laws are the way they are, allegedly based on the Supreme Court decision from the Ohio case that I referenced, while that may be technically legal, there are still these other layered issues within what’s technically legal that are actually really messed up institutional oversight that actually causes a larger burden, puts the burden on voters to know whether or not they are actually voting. And here we actually have elections coming up on November 5th. Because that’s the other thing, if you haven’t voted in X amount of time and then you look at these municipal elections, because a lot of people actually don’t show up in municipal elections unfortunately or in “off-cycle”, when it’s not a major election happening.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right.
ANOA CHANGA: A lot of people don’t show up for those unfortunately because people don’t put the time and energy to engage folks. So we do have municipal elections actually coming up on Tuesday, November 5th. There’s over 1000. I think it’s actually more like 1357 or something like that municipal races happening all across the State of Georgia. Fair Fight and other organizations forced the Secretary of State to make the list public so that you can actually search it. If you are one of the people who are set to be purged, you can search the list. You can also update and just check. I just think it’s just regular good practice to just check your status regardless of where you live. People might say, “Oh, poor Georgia. Oh, the South.” Yo, like I said, I referenced an Ohio case. There are issues. We saw the massive, purges and issues with people in New York in 2016. We saw issues in Arizona, Wisconsin…
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Texas.
ANOA CHANGA: …Texas, Tennessee, across the board. It’s not just Georgia, even though Georgia seems like ground zero for the BS these days.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right. Now, you mentioned municipal elections and that’s interesting because, of the 313,000 voter registrations that are set to be canceled by December 24th, one of the stipulations is that if the registrants don’t vote in next week’s municipal elections or return this form sent by mail, which you have indicated investigation has found that the form itself seems to be designed to not be accepted by the sorting machine so that it gets sent back, if people don’t change their address online or if they don’t re-register all together, then their registration will be purged. But it’s interesting that not voting in next week’s municipal elections is one of the stipulations for purging voter registrations. Because there is this idea that these purges are based on, for lack of a better term, it’s called a “use it or lose it” phrase or clause with voter registration–that if people don’t vote or have some contact with the Voter Registration Office, then they are removed from the voter rolls.
Now, I want to ask you this question: People might look at the use of the use it or lose it provision as kind of logical. If you don’t vote, if you haven’t voted in three years, four years, then why shouldn’t your name be removed from voter registration rolls? Is there a problem with that idea and that practice? Why is that not logical or reasonable?
ANOA CHANGA: Oh, it’s absolutely a problem. And one thing I will notice, so I can’t say for certain that the notices that are being sent out currently are deficient. I just know that from the research and anecdotal evidence we have of what has happened in the past, the video from Doc Holiday was done right ahead of the 2018 election in November, so I do know that there have been issues with the notices sent out. And so when they’re saying people have returned mail or they didn’t respond to a notice, again, it’s totally possible and we have seen evidence of this that those notices, they don’t register as something that is of ultimate importance because, like we’re talking about now with this use it or lose it, most people do not know that if you do not register or you do not actively use your right to vote that you will lose it, because it doesn’t make sense, especially in a state that brags about having automatic registration when you go to the DMV.
So when you go get your driver’s license you are automatically registered. You have to, if you don’t want to be registered, then you can, I think you check on the form, but you’re opted into the system to vote. So once you opt in it does not make sense that just because I don’t go to this election this one time or this other time that I would opt out, because people actually turning out in elections is a completely separate issue from whether or not you’re eligible to participate in an election. Being able to turn out and engage and actually feel like there is something for you if you show up has to do more with the way in which the system, the organizations, the candidates, campaigns, et cetera, are actually engaging with communities. So why this becomes an issue, this use it or lose it, I mean, it’s not like when you have your flex spending plan or something like that, you have this bank of money and if you don’t use it by this date, then you lose it all. And then that’s also even publicized really well. People actually understand that that exists.
But with use it or lose it, this racially neutral nonsense, because that’s what it is, it’s a racially neutral idea, like, “Oh, people don’t just use their rights to vote then they’ll lose it.” But what we know is that we know that that folks of color, that folks who are working class and lower income, tend not to actually turn out in as large numbers, particularly in these “off-cycle”, non-major races that people aren’t putting the same investment and turnout in, we know folks do not turn out in the same large numbers. We also know that people that when we’re looking at, because when we look at these, how do we know this, when we look at these purge lists, we see that the people who are being purged are predominantly Black and Latino. We see that people are predominantly working class. We see that these are people who are folks who we actually want to engage in and want out at the polls, we see that this is the way that they’re not just cleaning up the voting rolls for maintenance because really, if that were true, then my grandma would not still be on the voter rolls in New York despite the fact that she passed away six years ago. Let’s just be real here. You know what I’m saying?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Wow. So let me ask you though, but you brought up the issue of Black voters, particularly working class Latino voters, who are disproportionately affected by this use it or lose it a provision, and the fact that those groups of voters, especially working class and poor voters, don’t show up in the non-presidential every four year elections. Why is that and why are the conditions that make it difficult for people to participate in these pretty frequent “smaller” elections? Why is that a major issue in these voter purges? Is there a connection between the difficulty working people and poor people have with getting out to vote with what’s being done with these purges?
ANOA CHANGA: I mean, it’s all a part of an intricate web. When we talk about voter suppression, and voter suppression is a non-partisan issue, and when we talk about what it takes for people to actually engage and vote, we see all these barriers constantly erected since the creation of this country. Since the right to vote was established, we’ve seen all these barriers that exist to maintain and control particular power within certain vestiges of folks. So even though we know that various groups of people have since acquired the right to vote despite its original grant in the Constitution, we have seen an equal if not greater effort to curtail the rights to vote, from just trying to, when we’re going to talk about formerly incarcerated folks who can’t exercise their rights to vote for various reasons, whether we talk about these purges that happen, which like I said, approximately, if I’m doing my math correctly, and so folks check because math is not my…
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You’re not a statistician.
ANOA CHANGA: I’m not a statistician. It’s been a long time, y’all. But if I remember the numbers correctly, it’s like 313,000 approximately and then it was like 105,000 and another 85,000, both had some degree of issue that involves mail. Not actually moving or something else that was allegedly disqualifying, but just something like a piece of mail was returned and mail can be returned, like we said, for lots of reasons. I get mail returned at my apartment because you don’t put my unit number on there and I’m not living there.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right, right.
ANOA CHANGA: So there are all these reasons, but why does it matter? I’m not going to say that’s a direct correlation, but at the same time, it’s a part of a web of tactics that we know are employed overall. And then also we know things this disproportionately effects. This is part of the problem with the way in which we deal with desperate impacts in discrimination law and stuff in this country. Because we know that there is desperate impact in particular, instances with policies that appear racially neutral often, but there is often this emphasis on proving intent, like the fact that this disproportionate impact exists is not always enough.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right.
ANOA CHANGA: But it does make an argument for why we have to invest and support organizations who are doing this work, who are getting out there. So whether you’re the New Georgia Project here in Georgia, or you’re the organization Block up in Milwaukee, or Texas Organizing Project, One PA. I mean, there’s so many different organizations, New Florida Majority, New Virginia Majority. There’s so many different organizations right now who have been consistently invested in doing this work and making sure they’re connected with our people. The other thing that we see happening here in Georgia, and I don’t really know the data for other places, but here in Georgia specifically, we know that we have a demographic shift. So we will be the first plural racial majority state. Folks have been talking about the minority majority language recently.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right, right.
ANOA CHANGA: But we will be a majority state of diverse backing by, I think, it’s 2025. So within five years, the way we’re trending demographically. So there definitely is this built in fear. And what happened, what was built in 2017 and 2018 by Stacey Abrams, and quite honestly, it goes back to when she first took over as House Minority Leader in 2010, it has really been a continuous effort to not just combat the voter suppression tactics that we’ve been seeing, but also to really build collective power and opportunity to help people start understanding why they should engage in the process. Electoral politics are not the end all be all. They are not a liberatory force in and of itself. However, when we are talking about being able to end cash bail and do certain things, we need to have champions in the City Council chambers to be able to do that.
If you’re talking about ending the school to prison to deportation pipeline in our School Boards, we need to have a champion on the School Board who is willing to listen, or we need to have community folks who are willing to go with us to go shut it down if need be or to go have conversations and give testimony. We need County Commissioners who are controlling the purse strings for the counties to help allocate funds if we want to defund prisons and jails at the local level and state level. So there is a whole reason why engaging in local elections absolutely matters. And people count on the fact that you’re only going to get sometimes 20% turnout. Some of the win numbers from some of the cities here in Georgia, the smaller cities, some people have win numbers of 200 people. So if you get 200 people to come out, they’ll vote for you. I mean, we’ve seen instances recently, Tiffany Caban’s race just recently, it was less than 70 people decided her whole entire race for a whole county in New York.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Wow. That is amazing.
ANOA CHANGA: So, it matters.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So what is specifically the New Georgia Project doing to overcome these manufacturers obstacles to voting that disproportionately affect Black, poor, working class, Latino immigrant populations that have to juggle things like childcare, having to deal with extra childcare to go vote, having to deal with maybe interrupting shift work, having to take off work to go vote, not being able to leave school, transportation issues, and a host of other issues just in able to consistently participate in the electoral process, to exercise their right to vote, but then also have to jump through hurdles that are erected by this voter suppression? What is the New Georgia Project doing to address those dual issues? And that’s the last question I’m going to close this discussion on for you.
ANOA CHANGA: Well, not speaking in any official capacity for the organization, definitely have to connect you with Nse Ufot, who is the brilliant Co-Founder and Executive Director. Seriously, I’ll send you, y’all just need to watch her most recent panel discussion about voting rights 2.0 from the other night. But a part of it is organizing and having face to face conversations with our folks, and also using creative mechanisms, really digging into cultural references and opportunities to also bring people in and help with political education and understanding what’s going on. So next weekend, the New Georgia Project is actually hosting a video games jam, which is like a 72 hour hackathon to basically divide people up into teams to create a civic engagement video game and then try and have people present their games and then really try and engage with folks through that means of civic engagement and political education. Video games are widely used across the board in America, whether we’re talking about actual console games or games on your phone.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Right.
ANOA CHANGA: But also, it’s really getting in community, going into communities and talking to folks and doing types of events and building with people that the traditional party people don’t talk to. It’s going into rural areas and building across the black belt. We have three offices operating right now with partnerships all over the state, but you have a massive operation happening right now in Macon, which is about an hour and a half South of the city of Atlanta, as well as Augusta, which is about two hours, two and a half hours, to the east of Atlanta. So there are also relationships being built within church spaces. There are progressive leaders in all these spaces across the board. Folks might not just use the word progressive, and we’ve got to be real about that. Some folks may not use our jargon and lingo as progressives, but they definitely believe in the ideas, the values, and the issues, and we need to be talking to them in a way and in a language that can be heard.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And you certainly can’t talk to people that you’re not going to go out and reach out and touch, and that seems like what Stacy Abrams did so well in Georgia. That’s what Brian Kemp was afraid of. It seems to be what the GOP is still afraid of. So thank you so much for coming on the show today to talk about this continued threat to voter rights in Georgia. Anoa Changa, thank you so much.
ANOA CHANGA: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with Real News Network in Baltimore.
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