11 House Dems Demand Hearings on Justice: Department Memo Georgia Voter ID Law Was Initially Rejected by Staffers

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(APN) ATLANTA U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) and the Democratic Caucus on the US House Committee on Government Reform have called for a Congressional Hearing into whether the U.S. Department of Justice improperly approved Georgia’s Voter ID Law, according to letters obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

The Caucus wants a Hearing because it wants to know about the process by which the Justice Department ended up approving a Georgia Voter ID Law, when a 51-page Memo leaked to the Washington Post shows four out of five Justice Department Staffers initially opposed the law.

“The best way we can get that information is through a Hearing. That’s the best way you can request that information,” Chandra Harris, a Spokesperson for U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-GA) told Atlanta Progressive News.

“When you see… Staff Attorneys opposed it and it passed, it tells you, somebody had an IOU before it got there,” State Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta) said in a phone interview.

“This matter is of serious concern to the American people and certainly warrants review by our Committee. We request that the Committee obtain for review any internal Justice Department documents relating to the Georgia voter-identification law. In addition, we respectfully urge you to schedule a hearing on this matter as soon as possible,” the Caucus wrote, in a letter, dated November 18, 2005, to U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, who Chairs the US House Committee on Government Reform.

The letter was signed by Reps. Lacy Clay, Henry Waxman, Brian Higgins, Tom Lantos, Elijah Cummings, Carolyn Maloney, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Linda Sanchez, and Eleanor Holmes Norton.

U.S. Rep. David Scott sent a separate letter to Chairman Davis on November 21, 2005.

The Memo, which is available in PDF form at WashingtonPost.com, shows that a meticulous review of the Georgia Voter ID Law by Justice Department Staffers led to a call by those staffers that the Law not be approved. Georgia and nine other states are required to get approval by the US Department of Justice for any changes to its voter laws due to its history of racial discrimination.

The staffers did not approve the Georgia Voter ID Law because the state failed to meet its obligation of showing that the law would not result in reduced access to the polls by African Americans. To the contrary, the facts gathered by the staffers show that the law would indeed result in reduced access.

The proposed Georgia Voter ID Law would reduce the number of eligible ID’s from 17 to 5, and would eliminate provisional ballots for individuals without ID. It also would enhance absentee voting by mail.

The law–which was put under injunction in a federal court last month due a law suit led by Common Cause Georgia–”would have put an undue burden on people to exercise the right to vote when they already have the right to vote,” Bill Bozarth, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, said.

“You may have to show a drivers license to cash a check. But that’s different from when you vote,” Bozarth argued.

Opponents also argue that the Law ignores the fraud loopholes available in absentee ballots.

The Memo raised concerns about comments by the Sponsor of the Georgia Voter ID Bill, Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta). The Memo states Burmeister told the Justice Department she was once offered Black people’s votes for money, and that some Black people may vote for money they are allegedly offered.

Burmeister said any disenfranchisement of Blacks that resulted from the law would be due to the prevention of voter fraud by Blacks, the Memo also stated.

“I thought that for my colleague to say that Blacks don’t vote if they don’t get paid, was very racist. And it reminded me of what Sen. Lott said about Strom Thurmond,” Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta) said in a phone interview.

Dean and several members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Georgia called for Burmeister to step down as a leader of the Georgia State Republican Party last week.

“The Republican Party dumped Trent Lott. To talk about Black folks selling their vote, and that’s the need for voter fraud, is very racist. There were no facts for this. I’ve been in politics for 30 years in this state. The only time when voting fraud came up, was when White elected officials and voting registrars were voting dead people in those counties. In the 30s, 40s, and the 50s, in South Georgia,” Rep. Dean said.

“But to say Blacks, that’s where the fraud in voting is, that’s just unconscionable. I can’t sit here and let my colleague make the public believe the fraud in voting in this state is Black folks selling their vote. We have a hard enough time convincing Black people to vote,” Rep. Dean added.

“It’s hard to conclude anything but the Republican Party of Georgia was trying to remove people from having the ability to vote when they would have voted… to skew the voters in such a way to their advantage,” Bill Bozarth, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, told Atlanta Progressive News. “This came in from the national agenda to try to get partisan advantage.”

New signs suggest the controversial Georgia Voter ID Law may be overturned. For instance, “I believe… The [state] senate sponsor is already going to come back with a revised version of the bill,” Bill Bozarth of Common Cause Georgia said.

In another sign, the Athens Banner-Herald has revised its editorial position on the Voter ID Law, from previously supporting the law, to now opposing it.

Matthew Cardinale is the Editor of Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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