Voter ID Halted but Not Defeated

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By Kristina Cates, Staff Writer, The Atlanta Progressive News.

(APN) ATLANTA – While Georgia voters were not limited to five forms of ID, instead of the current seventeen, in the recent Primary and Runoff Elections, the possibility is still there that poor, elderly, and disadvantaged voters may be effectively disenfranchised in the General Election or some future election.

Voter advocates are concerned the preliminary injunction against Georgia’s Voter ID law in Federal Court won’t be renewed for the next round of elections.

The proposed law, which would be the most restrictive in the country, is still considered by many as overly burdensome to voters.

The state injunction, spearheaded by former governor Roy Barnes, is still holding strong, however.

Neil Bradley of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voter ID Project, who is working on the federal case out of Rome, Georgia, is simply taking each injunction as it comes.

It is not possible to strike down the law itself, unless Georgia lawmakers decide to do that, Atlanta Progressive News has learned. Instead, the ACLU and others continue to fight in the courts against the law’s application in individual elections.

Even by making the ID’s free, there is still an expense incurred that disenfranchises groups like the poor, disabled, rural, and elderly voters, to name a few, Bradley argues. The expense comes from transportation, fees to purchase copies of documents required to receive the ID in the first place, as well as any time away from work needed.

Bradley disagrees with the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy, who said that while the current law is unconstitutional, he wasn’t ruling out the possibility of an ID law in the future.

Bradley says the current forms of ID required are more than adequate, and that more restrictive identification rules are unnecessary.

Minority groups are not the only ones affected, he says. All Georgians would suffer an additional burden. “Should Governor Purdue lose his Driver’s License on Election Day, he wouldn’t be able to vote,” Bradley said.

The project, which is a part of the ACLU’s extensive voter rights work, has been very much involved in the suit. Their research, funding, and representation continue to be instrumental in repelling the proposed law.

Meanwhile, other advocates have made contingency plans to educate voters in the event the Voter ID law arises again.

Susan Somach, for instance, is prepared to work directly with Georgians to ensure they understand the proposed law, and what it would mean for them. Somach, who has worked both domestically and internationally for fair elections, is educating voters on the requirements.

Somach has obtained a list from the state of voters who do not have Driver’s Licenses; the list was created from a cross-tabulation, but is not complete or have phone numbers, she says.

While she feels that the law is reprehensible, she also argues that giving the public as much access as possible to the information they need is priority one.

Somach isn’t concerned with the law’s Republican and some Democratic proponents’ allegations of voter fraud, however.

“The real fraud we should be worried about is how votes are counted,” Somach said.

Indeed, the Republicans’ and some Democrats’ massive desire to scrutinize the identity of voters seems disproportionate in comparison to their minimal enthusiasm to scrutinize the integrity of Georgia’s E-voting machines, where there is no audit trail or meaningful recount process whatsoever. Voters are required to have a paper trail of ID’s, but the state is not required to have a paper trail of the votes.

There is also a very compelling argument to be made concerning the relationship between the proposed Voter ID law and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which went into effect in 1995.

The NVRA, also referred to as “Motor Voter,” makes the voter registration process easier, which resulted in almost 9 million new voters by the end of 1997 alone. The law requires voter registration to be available when getting a Driver’s License, Medicaid, or Food Stamps, as well as at offices dispensing AFDC and WIC benefits.

The argument is, if lawmakers recognized the excessive burden in the registration process, why can’t they recognize the same burden on voting itself? In an era where voter turnout is so low, why add additional hurdles between citizens and the ballot box?

Republicans across the country are said to be watching Georgia Voter ID closely.

In a letter written by the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) to Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), some of Georgia Republicans’ concerns are explained.

The USDOJ quotes an article from the Atlanta-Journal Constitution written in November 2000, which states that 5,412 occurrences of voter fraud involving deceased citizen identification were documented between 1980 and 2000. The article also points to the more than 15,000 dead people still on the registered list.

Susan Somach argues that those numbers are somewhat old, seeing as how they involve data going back to 1980, which was 26 years ago. Georgia’s current Secretary of State, Cathy Cox, has taken steps to remove many deceased voters’ names from the list during her tenure in office. Somach contends the data from more recent years that she has seen lists actual occurrences of voter fraud to be closer to 12 than 5,412. She says it would not be enough to tip an election.

Neither the USDOJ, nor the State of Georgia, has acknowledged the state’s own culpability in the instances of fraud that were discovered between 1980 and 2000. However, the responsibility to manage those lists lies with whoever is Secretary of State at the time.

Most of the occasions of fraud and mishandling tend to regard issues where the responsibility lies in organizational maintenance by the government.

One could argue the organizational and financial burden is being given to citizens, as opposed to lying with the government agencies Georgians pay tax dollars to for accepting that burden.

Meanwhile, citizens who register to vote while receiving a Driver’s License have already passed extensive screening.

The Driver’s License registration process itself is considered adequate, and yet, instead of making that information available to State Election Boards, the citizen is made responsible for providing them with additional information.

Democratic nations throughout the world where voters do not have to register separately to vote from getting their ID–where voters are already registered on account of being a citizen–have voter turnout in the range of 80 to 90%. In the US, though, voter turnout hovers around 50%.

The consensus among advocates seems to be, contrary to Judge Murphy’s opinion, that nothing could be done to the law to make it fair to voters.

Voter advocates view the law as extraneous and ultimately harmful to a constitutional election process.

Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples Agenda, doesn’t see anything positive that could come from the law.

Her organization travels the state holding town meetings, during which they try to establish the issues that concern people the most. The voter ID issue, she says, is on the list.

“Elderly citizens living in rural areas are worried they are going to have to produce a birth certificate. Most of these people were born in their homes, and don’t have that documentation,” Butler said.

“Expending a cost (to get these documents) still constitutes a poll tax,” Butler said.

The Voter Identification idea is spreading to other states as well.

Missouri, home of the aforementioned Senator Bond, is facing a similar situation.

A lawsuit was filed by voters last week in Cole County, Missouri, claiming the unconstitutionality of the law in that state and seeking an injunction baring their use in August 28th elections.

Unlike Georgia, who needs clearance through the USDOJ per the Voter Rights Act, Missouri could be strapped with the law if it is passed by the State Legislature.

As covered extensively in the Atlanta Progressive News, the USDOJ approved the Voter ID law in Georgia; however, the Washington Post discovered that President Bush’s political appointees overrode the recommendations of four out of five staff attorneys.

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 Judge who recently issued the injunction against the implementation of the Voter ID law ruled the state had not met its burden of proving there was any need for the law in the first place.

About the author:

Kristina Cates is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at kristina@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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