A state elections office bulletin sent out this week further inflamed charges of voter suppression and showcased some of the confusion surrounding Georgia’s voter challenge rules that state that any person can question the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters.

Turns out you can’t lodge a challenge to other voters attempting to cast a ballot in person at the polls.

Before the new rule outlined in the state’s 2021 election law overhaul in Senate Bill 202, it was already legal for Georgians to present a list of voters to their local election board who they think should be removed from voter rolls because they might have omitted an apartment number or were living in another state. 

Extensive mass voter challenges became more common following the 2020 presidential election as the right-wing voter watchdog group True the Vote teamed up with the Georgia Republican Party on a campaign that cast into doubt the eligibility of more than 360,000 voters from across the state.

While the overwhelming majority of those challenges were dismissed, large-scale challenges have cropped up once more going into the start of Monday’s early voting period ahead of the Nov. 8 general election 

Georgia’s State Elections Director Blake Evans sent a memo to county officials on Thursday clarifying how they should handle challenged voters. Evans’ first bulletin gave the impression that someone could challenge voters when they show up to vote in person starting next week, triggering concerns, particularly in the Black community.

A group of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams supporters lambasted the letter at a press conference Wednesday, calling it part of a broader national scheme to target Democratic and minority voters.  

“What kind of a debacle is this?” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, his voice thundering through the state Capitol hallways. “The intent is to impose fear, provoke anger, and disrupt the election process.”

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was part of a press conference held Wednesday to pan the unlimited mass voter challengers specifically allowed under Georgia’s 2021 election law. (Credit: Jill Nolin / Georgia Recorder)

The state issued further guidance to local election officials the next day.

Any voter challenge must be in writing, stating clearly the basis of the challenge, and must be filed with the board of registrars, which should review the claims to determine if enough probable cause exists to investigate further. Voter challenges cannot be filed with a poll manager or any poll worker, and Mike Hassinger, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said challenging someone in person is not permitted under state law. 

“There’s no legal means for an in-person, face-to-face, immediate confrontation at the polling place on Election Day. That would be disturbing the peace at the very least,” Hassinger said.

Still, the first time that a voter might realize their registration status is being questioned with a written challenge is when they show up at the polls on Election Day.

Whenever the registrars find probable cause, they will notify poll officers at the elector’s precinct and give the voter the opportunity to respond to the claims made against them. 

If there is not enough time to hold the hearing while the polls are open, the voter who’s questioned can fill out a paper absentee ballot that will be labeled as challenged. Electors will then be able to schedule a hearing at a later date before the registrars decide if their ballot will be counted and ultimately if the elector is tossed off the voter rolls.

Mobilizing this year’s recent mass voter challenge charge is Voter GA, a group of election deniers that claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Over 1,500 eligibility challenges launched against registered voters in Atlanta’s suburbs and Savannah were largely rejected this week.

Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias said that Georgia is leading the nation in the aggressiveness of voter challenges.

“Facing the potential threat of litigation, Georgia fixes the incorrect guidance it issued yesterday,” Elias posted on Twitter Thursday.  

Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.

Stanley Dunlap | Georgia Recorder

Stanley Dunlap writes for the Georgia Recorder.