Citizen Challenges: What They Are and Why They Matter
True the Vote is the country’s largest voters’ rights organization dedicated to the accuracy and transparency of our electoral process. As part of our mission to empower and equip citizens to ensure a process that's fair and open, we have partnered with residents of every county in Georgia, in a citizen-led effort that seeks to confirm all the votes cast in U.S. Senate runoff elections.
It is imperative that every legal vote be counted, and that every vote that is counted be legal. It is equally imperative that the process be fair, open, and transparent. That is true of the electoral process as well as our own, and that is why our explanation of what we have undertaken, why and how, be readily understood.
True the Vote filed 364,541 Elector Challenges on behalf of Georgia voters in counties across the state. That effort has resulted in some misinformation regarding the purpose and procedure of such challenges. It's important that the American people understand how their elections work, and how they are overseen by local, state, and federal authorities, so we're going to walk through a bit of the process to help clarify what exactly happens, and why, when it comes to validating votes.
The purpose of engaging the challenge process, which was established in the law to protect the integrity of the vote, is not to disqualify or disenfranchise any group of voters, nor is it specifically to disqualify the individual elector that has been challenged.
This process was established by the state to protect the vote.
Instead, the purpose of filing a challenge is to verify that a vote is being cast legally, that it is valid, that the elector is an eligible, resident voter, and that therefore all the citizens of the state are protected against any subversion of the process or outcome.
These challenges do not result in an automatic disqualification of the challenged elector. A challenge triggers a statutory procedure where the county election board must take further steps to verify the challenged elector’s current eligibility to vote - in this case, in Georgia's run-off election.
No persons challenged in this process will be removed from the voter rolls in the state.
It is important to understand that this process does not result in removing anyone from the voter rolls. The challenges filed are specific to the eligibility as it pertains to this special election only. Indeed, that is the very reason Georgia has created it: to provide a citizen-led method for verifying the integrity of a specified election.
This legal process protects and enfranchises.
In short, it is not correct to say that the legal process of elector challenges is to disenfranchise voters, but rather that it is to protect the franchise for eligible voters, whatever party or political interest they may have, by giving individual voting citizens the power to access government and ensure that their own vote is being fairly counted in a fair process.
Again, this process was written into the law for the express purpose of which it is now being utilized in the special election.
In Georgia, elector challenges are specifically written into the law.
Under Georgia law:
(a) Any elector of the county or municipality may challenge the right of any other elector of the county or municipality, whose name appears on the list of electors, to vote in an election. Such challenge shall be in writing and specify distinctly the grounds of such challenge. Such challenge may be made at any time prior to the elector whose right to vote is being challenged voting at the elector’s polling place or, if such elector cast an absentee ballot, prior to 5:00 P.M. on the day before the election; provided, however, that challenges to persons voting by absentee ballot in person at the office of the registrars or the absentee ballot clerk shall be made prior to such person’s voting.
O.C.G.A. § 21-2-230(a)
Georgia law requires that after the filing of such a challenge:
(b) Upon the filing of such challenge, the board of registrars shall immediately consider such challenge and determine whether probable cause exists to sustain such challenge. If the registrars do not find probable cause, the challenge shall be denied. If the registrars find probable cause, the registrars shall notify the poll officers of the challenged elector's precinct or, if the challenged elector voted by absentee ballot, notify the poll officers at the absentee ballot precinct and, if practical, notify the challenged elector and afford such elector an opportunity to answer.
O.C.G.A. § 21-2-230(b).
The basis for these challenges is well established, as this letter from our General Counsel, Jim Bopp with The Bopp Law Firm, fully details.
122120 GA County election board letter
HOW THE SPECIFIC CHALLENGES WERE DETERMINED
The challenges provided used the National Change of Address database, and were further refined through the use of other commercially available sources, to identify records that indicated a permanent change in residence.
In other words, for each voter challenged in a given county in the Georgia special election, that voter's eligibility to vote as a resident of that county is what the board is required to verify, should probable cause to request verification of that residency be demonstrated by the individual who has brought the challenge.
Each of those voters shows a status of "moved" - meaning they have had a change of address - longer than six months ago. No voters who moved more than sixty days ago, but whose status indicated the move was "temporary" is among those challenged. None of the challenged voters have a military address.
It is the responsibility of the county board of elections in each county to determine if a voter is eligible to cast a ballot in this election, should probable cause to investigate that eligibility be demonstrated in a challenge. For this process, probable cause is defined as “apparent facts discovered through logical inquiry that lead a reasonably intelligent and prudent person to believe that a voter is not qualified to vote."
Having changed residence, possibly to another county or state, is probable cause to verify eligibility.
USE OF NCOA
Some voters on Georgia's rolls - which have not been cleaned up in over a year despite the undertaking of one of the most important elections of the modern age - who have demonstrably moved but cannot be or have not been demonstrated to be residents of the county in which they are registered to vote, can and in some cases have requested absentee or mail-in votes.
National Change of Address (NCOA) information, particularly for voters who are registered and potentially able to vote, is probable cause for a county to engage in a verification process. In fact, it is standard to do so.
Federal law specifically permits the use of NCOA information to establish probable cause:
Section 6 of the 1993 National Voters Rights Act specifically informs that states may “conduct a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of……change-of-address information supplied by the Postal Service through its licensees is used to identify registrants whose addresses may have changed”
State law also specifically permits the use of National Change of Address information to establish probable cause:
O.C.G.A. 21-2-233(B) – “If it appears from the change of address information supplied by the licensees of the United States Postal Service that an elector whose name appears on the official list of electors has moved to a different address in the county in which the elector is presently registered, the list of electors shall be changed to reflect the new address and the elector shall be sent a notice of the change…..”
In the first half of each odd-numbered year, Georgia performs the same National Change of Address processing as has been used in the challenges filed during this special election. Records indicate the processing was last performed by the Secretary of State in April/May of 2019. Given the record number of absentee ballots requested this year (4.5 million) and the number voted by mail (1.3 million), the lack of a more recent NCOA process by the state has given rise to these address issues.
The state currently uses this process to identify voter registrations that require verification. To put it another way, the state already considers a change of address identified in this process as probable cause to seek verification.
Below is a chart that shows the specific challenge process.
FLOW CHART (PDF)
To put it all in simplest terms, validating a voter's status is not an attempt to remove that voter from the rolls, and indeed will not have that effect. Challenging is a means of verifying the validity of potential ballots, which is part of the responsibility of the state and the county in every election. It is a shared responsibility, and the benefits of a clear, fair, verified base of voters and legitimate ballots has a shared beneficial outcome.
True the Vote is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to empowering citizens with the tools and information to protect their voting rights. As such, it is our practice to operate without exclusion or bias. That is why our citizen-led efforts such as the elector challenges in Georgia are undertaken in just such a way. We have taken the same effort to ensure the integrity of the vote in Republican-majority counties as we have in Democrat-majority counties, and why we examine ballot records irrespective of any party affiliation.
The vote belongs to everyone, and so does the power to demand transparency and accountability from those who oversee those votes.
Below, find our letter sent to Georgia counties regarding the assistance we have available to their efforts at validating their electorate.
True the Vote - Letter to Georgia County Election Boards (PDF)