This election season is proving to be tough for Democrats, but many believe they can turn the red state of Georgia blue with the help of new voters.
One voter registration campaign led by the New Georgia Project, a "nonpartisan effort" according to its website, has targeted black, Latino, and Asian-American residents.
The organization's parent group, Third Sector Development, is currently engaged in a legal battle with election officials over more than 40,000 voter registration applications that, the group claims, are missing from Georgia's voter logs. This month, that organization, along with the NAACP and other civil rights groups, filed a lawsuit against five counties and Georgia's Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in the state.
"These are voters who deserve to have their voices heard," says Stacey Abrams, founder of the New Georgia Project. "This is a critical election — an election that will not only speak to what happens in the state of Georgia this cycle, but it speaks to the future of the Georgia that we want to have."
The issue has been resolved in Georgia's DeKalb County, located outside of Atlanta. But four other counties, including Fulton, Chatham, Muscogee, and Clayton Counties, still face the lawsuit.
Abrams, a Democrat who serves as Georgia's house minority leader, says it's unclear whether the 40,000 applications in question have been processed, based on the state's public lists of registered voters.
"The reality may be that the voters are in the process, and they will appear on the rolls. But we don't know," she says. "This is about information. It's about transparency."
The Georgia secretary of state's office did not respond to requests for comment by deadline, but during a press conference on Oct. 16, Kemp said the lawsuit is "totally without merit."
"The claim that there are over 40,000 unprocessed voter registration applications is absolutely false," he said. "The counties have processed all the voter registration applications that they have received for the general election."
In September, Kemp launched an investigation into the New Georgia Project's voter registration campaign after forged and other invalid applications were submitted to county offices. The New Georgia Project says they are legally required to submit all voter registration applications they collect — even invalid ones.
Earlier this week, DeKalb County was released from the lawsuit after confirming that the county had processed all of its applications. Maxine Daniels, director of voter registration and elections in DeKalb County, says she was upset by the lawsuit's allegations.
"We understand that what we do is the very basis for our democracy, and so we take it very seriously," she explains. "For someone to say that we're not doing it, it's just very disconcerting."
Daniels says the lawsuit may come down to failures in communication between the New Georgia Project and county election offices. She says she wishes the group reached out to her office about missing applications earlier in the process. But Daniels still supports outreach to new voters.
"Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water," she says. "We have to keep in mind that there still were some 7,000 voters that as a result of their project got registered [in DeKalb County]. And so we applaud that effort."
NPR contacted the four other counties named in the lawsuit. All asserted that they currently have no unprocessed applications. A hearing about the case is set to take place in Atlanta on Friday.