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Georgia's Draconian Voter Verification System Passes Federal Muster

Two years of courtroom battles ended on Monday as Georgia received a green light from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to go ahead with its controversial voter verification system, a major step backward for the state.  "It came as something of a shock," said Laughlin McDonald, the voting rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union, which joined a lawsuit against the voter ID system.

DOJ itself has blocked the program in the past, calling it “a flawed system” that subjects a disproportionate number of minority voters to “additional and, more importantly, erroneous burdens on the right to register to vote.” However, DOJ backpedaled once Georgia revised the system last week to only include first-time voter registration applicants; initially, first time voters as well as voters making technical changes to their driver’s licenses were affected by the program.

A Burdensome ID System:  Georgia’s voter verification system checks voter registration information against drivers' license and Social Security databases – databases that are, according to voting rights groups, error-ridden.  Voter registration procedures further require birth certificates and other documents as proof of citizenship, which many people, especially students, minorities, and the elderly, cannot readily access.

The flawed procedures were brought to light before the 2008 presidential election, when thousands of US citizens were erroneously flagged as non-citizens.  After a coalition of voting rights groups sued the state on behalf of Jose Morales, a naturalized Latino citizen incorrectly purged from the voter rolls, the voter verification system was blocked until a Section 5 review could be completed.  Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Georgia and other states with a history of discrimination are required to submit any changes in voting procedures to the DOJ or the US District Court in Washington DC for pre-clearance prior to implementation.

Fear of a Rightwing Supreme Court:  The scope of Georgia’s now approved system is actually much broader than a proposed version that was rejected by DOJ in 2009, which would have only applied voter verification to first-time applicants who registered by mail and did not provide proper identification.  Though DOJ has not issued a formal statement explaining its actions, Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU speculated that DOJ pre-cleared the program because Georgia's lawsuit specified that if the court found its system constitutional under the Voting Rights Act, then it should also rule all of Section 5 unconstitutional – people “were concerned what this [Supreme Court] would do if it was given an opportunity to rehear a case like this."

Resources

Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionJustice Department approves Georgia voter verification system
ACLU -  ACLU Intervenes in Georgia Voting Rights Act Challenge
Morales v. HandelLetter from Civil Rights Division Acting Assistant Attorney General to Georgia Attorney General
Georgia v. Holder
NAACP Legal Defense Fund -  Case: Georgia v. Holder
US Department of Justice -  About Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Progressive States Network -  Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Restrictive Voter ID Law
Progressive States Network -  The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response