As Secretary of State, Karen Handel put Georgia on the map as a leader for voter suppression tactics.
Claims of “voter fraud,” one of the Right Wing’s favorite myths, led to a wave of bad policy pushed by Handel, including the use of inaccurate software to purge voters as well as the implementation of unnecessary voter ID laws.
During her gubernatorial campaign (against Nathan Deal) she proudly trotted out these “accomplishments,” which earned her the endorsement of Arizona’s Jan Brewer, who led the way in her own state implementing harsh policies that target immigrant communities.
Back in 2007, Handel and her team created a “voter verification” system that led to almost 200,000 individuals being tagged as a “non-match” because of a name mismatch. If this problem sounds familiar, that’s because the use of similar systems persist to this day under Sec. of State Brian Kemp. This sort of name-matching software has been challenged in court — again and again — because they disproportionately impact people of color.
Handel sent letters to thousands of individuals just weeks before the November 2008 presidential election, alerting voters that their name did not match and they’d have to go to court to prove their identity if they wanted to vote before the election. A lawsuit ensued, however it was January of the following year before the Department of Justice ruled the voter verification system was deeply flawed and discriminatory.
In their ruling, the DOJ wrote that the system “does not produce accurate and reliable information and that thousands of citizens who are in fact eligible to vote under Georgia law have been flagged.”
Handel also led the way on Georgia’s new (at the time) voter ID laws. Stricter voter ID laws have been widely panned by voting rights activists for disproportionately impacting students, low-income people and people of color. She even supported these over-zealous voter ID laws in other states.
She defended the move at the time, telling NPR, “It’s going to take Georgia one step further in terms of the integrity of our elections by insuring that each individual who comes in to cast a vote is indeed who that individual says he or she is.” Conservatives still like to trot out the voter fraud myth — it’s a line Donald Trump has used — however it’s clearly not the real-world problem conservatives believe it is. The number of voter fraud cases has been proven time and time again to be statistically insignificant. Voters just don’t always vote for Republicans.
Handel’s record on voter suppression during her time as Secretary of State is shameful and, unfortunately, it has clearly been a point of pride for her.