Congresswoman Nikema Williams Urges Investigation of Voter Registration Glitch at Georgia Department of Driver Services

ATLANTA – Today, Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05), joined by Reps. Sanford Bishop (GA-02) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (GA-07), sent letters to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Attorney General Merrick Garland urging them to investigate a 40% decline in the rate of Georgians utilizing automatic voter registration through the Georgia Department of Driver Services. A recent report indicated the rate of people registering to vote through the Georgia Department of Driver Services fell from 79% in 2020 to 39% in 2021.

The Members wrote in the letter: 

“Georgia’s voter registration deadline is less than one week away, and early voting for the primary election begins in less than two weeks. In order to ensure every Georgian can exercise their right to vote, we urge the Department of Justice to investigate the precipitous decline in automatic voter registrations through the Georgia Department of Driver Services and, if necessary, take timely action to protect Georgians’ constitutional right to vote.”

Read the letters below. 

April 20, 2022

Honorable Merrick Garland

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Garland,

We write to alert the Department of Justice to a potentially significant threat to the constitutional right to vote in the state of Georgia.

Georgia has a long, unfortunate history of making it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote. We thank you and your colleagues at the Department of Justice for your leadership in challenging Georgia’s suppressive elections law, SB 202.[1] However, more work remains to ensure voter suppression efforts in Georgia are stopped and do not go unchallenged. 

As you know, the National Voter Registration Act requires that states offer voter registration opportunities to people at motor vehicle agencies. Since 2016, Georgia has utilized automatic voter registration at Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) to increase voter participation and make it easier for people to register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license. This change helped increase the registration rate of Georgia voters from 76 percent in 2016 to 95 percent in 2020.[2] However, recent reports indicate that the rate of drivers utilizing the automatic voter registration process at DDS has fallen from 79 percent in 2020 to just 39 percent in 2021.[3]

In January 2021, DDS launched a new computer system, Georgia Driver Record and Integrated Vehicle Enterprise System (Georgia DRIVES). The recent and steep decline in drivers utilizing automatic voter registration at DDS raises serious questions regarding access to the ballot in this year’s election. Given that the 2016 policy was in place for five years, many Georgians now assume that when they change or receive a driver’s license, they are automatically registered to vote at the appropriate location. However, these sharply declining numbers suggest that people may believe they have registered or re-registered to vote when this may not be the case.

Further, we know that the majority of newly registered voters since 2016 are minority voters: at least 55 percent of newly registered voters between 2016 and 2020 were voters of color.[4] Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits “voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.”[5] Given the increase in minority voter registrations following implementation of the 2016 policy, the decline in registrations at DDS, either because of policy changes or design flaws, will likely have a disproportionate impact on minority voters’ ability to register to vote. 

Georgia’s voter registration deadline is less than one week away, and early voting for the primary election begins in less than two weeks. In order to ensure every Georgian can exercise their right to vote, we urge the Department of Justice to investigate the precipitous decline in automatic voter registrations through the Georgia Department of Driver Services and, if necessary, take timely action to protect Georgians’ constitutional right to vote. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your expedient response. 

Sincerely,

[1]https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-lawsuit-against-state-georgia-stop-racially-discriminatory

[2]https://www.eac.gov/sites/default/files/document_library/files/2020_EAVS_Report_Final_508c.pdf

[3]https://www.ajc.com/politics/did-georgia-weaken-automatic-voter-registration/7LR5XNN6ZZCA7GJJR2HVEHPTXM/

[4]https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/12/21/black-latino-and-asian-americans-have-been-key-to-georgias-registered-voter-growth-since-2016/  

[5]https://www.justice.gov/crt/section-2-voting-rights-act#:~:text=Section%202%20of%20the%20Voting%20Rights%20Act%20of%201965%20prohibits,)(2)%20of%20the%20Act  


April 20, 2022

Governor Brian Kemp

206 Washington Street

Suite 203, State Capitol

Atlanta, GA 30334

Dear Governor Kemp,

We write to express our extreme concern regarding the status of the automatic voter registration system at the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) in light of its adoption of Georgia Driver Record and Integrated Vehicle Enterprise System (Georgia DRIVES) – an online e-services application Georgia began using in January 2021. 

Recent reports indicate that the rate of drivers opting to utilize the automatic voter registration process at DDS fell from 79 percent in 2020 to just 39 percent in early 2021, and has remained low since that time.[1] This steep decline raises serious questions regarding access to the ballot in this year’s election, including the possibility that voters may believe they are registered to vote but are not and are therefore unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote. 

In 2016, Georgia implemented automatic voter registration as part of the driver’s license application process, a change that you helped to implement as Secretary of State. This change helped to increase the registration rate of eligible voters in Georgia from 76 percent in 2016 to 95 percent in 2020. This progress is jeopardized by the dramatic decline in voters registering through DDS in 2021.

We are aware that DDS launched a new computer system, Georgia DRIVES, in January 2021. While it is unclear what impact, if any, this new system has had on voter registration rates through DDS, the steep drop off in automatic voter registrations in the first year of its operation raises critical questions about whether a software error, a design flaw, or some other issue has negatively impacted the ability of Georgians to register to vote. 

As you know, the National Voter Registration Act requires that states offer voter registration opportunities to people at motor vehicle agencies. Since 2016, Georgia has utilized automatic voter registration at DDS to increase voter participation and make it easier for people to register to vote. The dramatic decline in registration rates in 2021 is concerning and raises questions regarding Georgia’s compliance with the National Voter Registration Act. 

In order to increase participation and ensure no one is denied their constitutional right to vote in the upcoming election, we request the following:  

  1. Conduct a thorough investigation of the decline in the rate of voter registrations at DDS and immediately remediate any changes at DDS or the Georgia Secretary of State’s office which are found to have led to the decline.  
  2. To the extent the investigation reveals that individuals who visited DDS in January 2021 or later and a) wished to automatically register but were not automatically registered, or b) were impacted by design changes to the opt-out option that created confusion or ambiguity, immediately notify such individuals, inform them that their voter registration information was not updated, and provide information on how they can update their voter registration.
  3. Provide an opportunity for individuals who attempt to vote in this year’s election, but are not registered to vote, to cast a provisional ballot. Upon investigation, if those individuals are found to have interacted with DDS after January 2021 and were not automatically registered due to software error, design flaw, or other issue revealed through your investigation, their vote must be counted.

Georgia’s voter registration deadline is less than one week away, and early voting for the primary election begins in less than two weeks. In order to ensure the security of our elections and that every Georgian can exercise their right to vote, we implore you to act with urgency to investigate the recent decline in automatic voter registrations through DDS and take action to protect the right to vote.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your expedient response. 

Sincerely,

[1]https://www.ajc.com/politics/did-georgia-weaken-automatic-voter-registration/7LR5XNN6ZZCA7GJJR2HVEHPTXM

CONTACT: PressGA05@mail.house.gov 

Congresswoman Nikema Williams proudly serves Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. Congresswoman Williams serves on the exclusive Financial Services Committee where she is Vice Chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Select Committee for the Modernization of Congress. She is Freshman Class President and Co-Chairs the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus. Congresswoman Williams builds on the Fifth District’s legacy as the cradle of the civil rights movement as a champion of voting rights, closing the racial wealth gap, and ensuring the promise of America for all–regardless of their ZIP code or bank account.

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