ATLANTA — Georgia's top election official says he has changed a policy that a recent lawsuit said prevented tens of thousands of residents from registering to vote and violated the Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit filed in federal court this month said a policy implemented in 2010 rejects people who apply to register to vote if identifying information on their applications doesn't exactly match information in databases maintained by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.
A letter filed on Friday by attorneys representing Secretary of State Brian Kemp said the office has stopped marking people as ineligible to vote if their names don't exactly match other government databases and won't resume the practice without a court decision. The letter to U.S. District Court Senior Judge William O'Kelley also said that people rejected using that process since 2015 can cast regular ballots in November with appropriate identification.
A spokeswoman for Kemp and a spokesman for Attorney General Sam Olens, whose office is representing Kemp, confirmed the letter on Monday.
Under the Georgia policy, a mismatch triggers a letter notifying the applicant of the problem. If the applicant doesn't respond within 40 days, the application is automatically canceled.
The lawsuit said voting records may not match other databases for multiple reasons, including data-entry errors, typos or elections officials misreading applicants' handwriting. Hyphenated and maiden names or initials can also cause problems.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda. Attorneys have said African-American, Latino and Asian-American applicants are disproportionately affected, in part because they are more likely to have hyphens or other symbols in their names or to have multiple or compound last names.
Kemp's letter represents "a significant step," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit.
"Georgia's changes in policy, taken following the filing of our lawsuit, will impact tens of thousands of individuals seeking to register and vote this election cycle," Clarke said. "All eligible Americans deserve the right to register and vote and we will work to lift restrictive policies, like Georgia's exact-match voter registration identification procedure, that unfairly exclude people from our democracy."
Clarke said the parties still are discussing the status of people rejected from registering to vote in 2014. Kemp's letter also indicated that his office is "attempting to apply the same solution" to those people as those rejected in 2015 or 2016 who will be allowed to vote in November with appropriate identification.