An Indiana-based law firm claims that Bryan County is one of 248 counties nationwide that had more registered voters than there are adults eligible to vote as of the November 2016 general election.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, headquartered in Indianapolis, describes itself as a 501(c)3 nonpartisan and nonprofit organization “dedicated to election integrity.” The group said its research found 248 counties in 24 states — including six in Georgia — with between 101 percent and 169 percent registered voters than eligible voters.
A Monday press release from the law firm states: “Officials in 24 states now risk lawsuits if they do not disclose satisfactory data demonstrating effective voter roll maintenance.”
The press release can be found at: https://publicinterestlegal.org/blog/248-counties-registered-voters-live-adults/.
Bryan County Election Supervisor Cindy Reynolds said the report published by PILF "does not reflect the current state of voter registration rolls with respect to Bryan County" in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.
Logan Churchwell, communications and research director for PILF, said a lawsuit is the last option for the firm.
“Our hope is that because these are public bodies, they’ll engage in an open dialogue with us to get these issues fixed,” he said. “We’re even willing to hop on a plane and come visit so we can look at the voter registration files. They are public records and we hope this would be a learning experience for everyone.”
Churchwell said that after the November 2016 general election, Bryan County reported to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission that it had 25,907 registered voters, both active and inactive. The law firm said the U.S. Census Bureau in 2016, however, only showed 22,100 adults age 18 and older in Bryan County. PILF concluded from these numbers that Bryan County has 101 percent of all eligible voters listed as registered voters.
Its highest finding was at 169 percent in South Dakota’s Hanson County. The other Georgia counties named on the list are McIntosh County (154 percent), Marion County (137 percent), Oconee County (103 percent), Lee County (102 percent) and Fayette County (102 percent).
Reynolds said voter rolls in Georgia are maintained by the Secretary of State, rather than by individual counties, and that the state purged 2,934 Bryan County voters from the rolls on July 28, 2017, due to inactivity by those voters over the past two general election cycles.
"This is a regular process of the Secretary of State provided by Georgia laws to ensure that our voting rolls are as accurate as possible," Reynolds said. "The Secretary of State also uses the vital records to remove, on a regular basis, individuals who have passed away."
Reynolds added that "The Bryan County Board of Elections is not aware of the data used by the Public Interest Legal Foundation to make this claim," and that "The Board takes its obligations very seriously and makes every effort to make sure that all citizens have their right to vote."
“We start with the presumption that everyone in the county age 18 and up is actually eligible to vote, just to give the county the maximum benefit of the doubt,” Churchwell said. “That would assume that there are no convicted felons, no one who has been deemed by a judge to be mentally incapacitated, no non-citizens, that sort of thing.”
Churchwell said the truth is that not everyone eligible to vote in a particular jurisdiction can register to vote or does so.
“The fact that Bryan County is one of 248 to make the list means something is askew,” he said. “Our plan is to ask a battery of questions to figure out what is driving the numbers so high and what the county can do better to maintain a clean voter file.”
PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in the news release that “voter fraud begins with corrupted voter rolls” and that “voter rolls are so bad in some states that election officials would have a hard time telling the difference between sabotage and negligence.”
Adams was appointed in July to President Trump’s election integrity commission, which critics say is designed to target areas that largely vote Democrat. Trump received 68 percent of the vote in Bryan County last November, garnering 10,513 votes to 4,010 for Hillary Clinton.
Reynolds said in May 2016 before the primary election that there were 17,866 “active” registered voters.
Letters dated Sept. 15 sent to county officials in all 248 jurisdictions by PILF ask for several pieces of information, including: a list of residents deemed ineligible to serve on juries; names of ineligible voters removed from the rolls since Dec. 1, 2011, due to things such as death, felony convictions and lack of American citizenship; and the names of office staff responsible for voter list maintenance.
A copy of the letter can be found at: https://publicinterestlegal.org/files/Sample-2017-notice.pdf.
“It is our hope that your county will work quickly to provide for inspection of all records related to your list maintenance practices, by the date requested, including provision of the requested information and records,” the letter goes on to state. “If not, according to federal law, a lawsuit under the NVRA (National Voter Registration Act) may be filed within 90 days after the failure to permit inspection or failure to provide the documents.”
The letter also explains that if a lawsuit is filed, the county could be liable for PILF’s “attorney fees, expenses and other costs incurred.”
Churchwell said the language in the letter may come across as “accusatory” because “in nine out of 10” instances the firm finds something wrong.
“This is a good government issue,” he said. “People have as much right to clean voter rolls as they do to clean water.”