Georgia elections offices swamped with voter registrations

Telegraph file photo

Elections offices across Georgia have seen a dramatic increase in the number of voter registration applications in recent months.

A change with the state’s Department of Driver Services has spurred about 464,000 more applications this year compared to the most recent nonpresidential election year.

And that means elections employees are spending more time sorting through them, including weeding out duplicates of people who are already registered.

Statewide, there have been 559,179 voter registration applications through the Department of Driver Services since Jan. 1. During the same period in 2015, there were 95,102 voter registration applications from the Department of Driver Services, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

DDS has switched from an “opt-in” to an “opt-out” policy on how it processes voter registrations when people use certain services.

The change, which went into effect in the fall of 2016, was coordinated with the state Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office. It ensures compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, DDS said in a statement.

With the change, the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections office has become inundated with voter registrations, Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson said.

“We’re trying to get to them as quickly as we can, but because of this change it’s out of control,” Watson said. “It’s not just Bibb. It’s every county in Georgia.”

People using the DDS services must sign the registration application before it becomes official. A signature is not required if the voter’s address is updated, however.

“DDS currently sends information to the Secretary of State’s Office for those applicants who wish to register to vote or to submit a change of residence for purposes of voting, and county registrars then process the applications or updated residence information, as required” by the National Voter Registration Act, the statement said.

“There is a voter registration section on each DDS license/ID issuance application,” the statement said. “In that section, customers are notified that their information will be used for voter registration purposes unless they choose otherwise. There is also a clear 'opt-out' box that the customers can check if they do not wish to register to vote or update their information.”

The Bibb County elections office is now receiving 200 to 300 voter registrations per week, about double than usual. In Houston County, the elections office would typically receive a much smaller list of registrations from Department of Driver Services.

“Normally, it’s anywhere between two, three, four, five, pages of names with about 10 names on each page,” said Andy Holland, from the Houston Board of Elections office. “Here lately it’s been more around 8 to 13 pages.”

Many of the recent applications from DDS are from people who are already registered, Watson said.

“As it looks right now, we’re not going to get a big handle on it without spending some overtime man hours to catch up,” Watson said. “When you go out over the weekend, the board’s back full. We’re not having an election, but we want to get them registered in a timely manner. The majority are duplicates. ... A lot of counties are having the same issue.”

Although the DDS change is driving the influx of applications, another source could be the political climate following the 2016 presidential election.

The Secretary of State’s online registration system has received 13,669 applications since January. That’s up from the 9,814 voter registration applications between Jan. 1, 2015 until April 27 of that year.

Those figures include new applications, change of information applications and county transfer applications.

“I think a lot of people on on both sides (of the political aisle) want to be more engaged,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph