In early May, a federal judge extended the voter-registration deadline for the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District by two months, from March 20 to May 21. That allowed nearly 8,000 additional people to register to vote in time for the June 20 election.
Democrat Jon Ossoff praised the decision. “Voting rights are constitutional rights,” he said. “I encourage all eligible voters to ensure that they are registered and make their voices heard on June 20th and in all elections, regardless of their party or political persuasion.”
But Republican Karen Handel did not. “This is going to boil your blood,” she wrote in an e-mail to supporters. “Just hours ago, the Democrats won their lawsuit to extend voter registration in Georgia before our election. This lawsuit should be seen for exactly what it is: A partisan attempt to change the rules in the middle of an election for a nakedly partisan outcome.”
There was more than a little irony in Handel’s e-mail: Not only did she not want more people to register and vote, but shaping election rules to achieve a partisan outcome was exactly what Handel was known for as Georgia’s secretary of state from 2007 to 2010. She has a long record of making it harder to vote—supporting Georgia’s strict voter-ID law, trying to purge thousands of eligible voters from the rolls before the 2008 election, repeatedly challenging the residency of qualified Democratic candidates, and failing to secure the state’s electronic voting machines.
Let’s start with the purge. Weeks before the 2008 election, thousands of registered voters in Georgia had their citizenship challenged by the state, a policy spearheaded by Handel. One of them was Jose Morales, a student at Kennesaw State University, a legal permanent resident since he was a toddler who became a US citizen in November 2007. After filling out a voter registration form in September 2008, Morales received a letter from Cherokee County telling him that he must provide evidence of his citizenship in court or would be kept off the voter rolls.
Morales drove 30 minutes from his home in Kennesaw to the Cherokee County Elections office in Canton, to give the clerk a copy of his passport. He was told that was sufficient evidence to prove his citizenship and received a copy of his voting card a week later. But a month before the election, on October 7, 2008, he received another letter saying he was still not qualified to vote and had to appear again before the Cherokee County Elections office to prove his citizenship again or else he would be purged from the rolls.