I meant to blog this story when the Georgia's new, highly restrictive voter ID bill passed the State Senate, but now it's been signed into law (registration required; via ConyersBlog) by Governor Sonny Perdue. The bill makes Georgia the first state in the US not to permit voters an alternative to photo ID, such as a signed affidavit. Representative Conyers' comments are worth repeating here:
It is quite an amazing and discouraging development, and one that we are seeing in other "Red" States. The GOP is clearly engaged in a power ploy, and they are stopping at no means in their effort to eradicate all political opposition. We began with the ruthless effort to stop the Florida recount. Than we had the amazing mid-decade gerrymands in Texas and Colorado (the latter thrown out by the courts), which singlehanded gave the GOP 5 seats in the 2004 elections. We all saw what Ken Blackwell accomplished in Ohio for Bush-Cheney, and this year Georgia has redistricted and is now enacting a new "poll tax" in disguise. Many other states are planning the same discrminatory ploy, such as Indiana.In response to this development, twenty-one members of Congress have joined Representative Conyers in a letter asking the Department of Justice to throw out the Georgia legislation for being in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which applies special scrutiny to states, such as Georgia, with a history of restricting African American voting rights before 1965.
What really saddens me is that the GOP is doing this with no solid evidence of vote fraud -- that is to say individuals knowingly going to the polls who are not entitled to vote. Please let me know of any documented cases of this occuring in the last decade. I know the new photo id laws will prevent legal voters from voting, but I doubt it will prevent a single case of the intentional vote fraud the bills claim to be aimed at. Is it any wonder minorities are so alienated by the Republican Party?
Our objections to voter identification provisions are grounded in history as well as contemporary evidence. During their day, poll taxes and literacy tests, which were also said to protect against fraud and breed confidence in elections (as the Georgia law purports to do), had the direct effect of erecting a barrier to minority voters. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 specifically outlawed these and other similar devices because they could be arbitrarily administered by local registrars and state officials in a discriminatory manner. We strongly believe that requiring government-issued photo identification at the polling place would inevitably create similar barriers and hurdles for racial and ethnic minority voters and would have a chilling effect on voter participation.Given its aggressive reversals of its own historic mission to protect voting rights, the DOJ will most likely respond—if it responds at all—in favor of Georgia's voter disenfranchisement bill.
The negative effect of these provisions has been widely recognized at the state and federal level. Consider the following:
• The Federal Elections Commission noted in its 1997 report to Congress that photo identification entails major expenses, both initially and in maintenance, and presents an undue and potentially discriminatory burden on citizens in exercising their basic right to vote. The burden of this requirement would fall disproportionately and unfairly upon racial and ethnic minority voters, as well as voters with disabilities, since a disproportionate number have neither identification nor the financial means to acquire it. For this reason, the vast majority of states recognize the barriers of photo identification and have adopted other identification procedures.
• On November 5, 2001 a federal court prohibited the use of an identification requirement, with an alternative signature attestation option, at the polls in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Both the Department and private plaintiffs argued, and the court found, that "the burden imposed by this requirement will fall disproportionately on the Latin American community, thereby violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. ¡ì 1973."
• The Department of Justice has taken issue with identification requirements for having a discriminatory impact on minority voters. In the City of Lawrence case, the Department noted that, "our experience in jurisdictions around the country suggests that minority voters — especially those who do not have the required identification with them at the polls ... — may be disproportionately disadvantaged by such [identification] requirements, either by difficulties at the polling place or by fears of such mishaps that make them unwilling to go to the polls.["]
• In a directly analogous case, the Department objected to the use of photo identification requirements without also permitting a signature attestation for first time voters under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because it had a disparate impact on minority electoral participation. Since black voters were found four to five times less likely to have photo identification, the Department believed that this requirement would have a "retrogressive effect on the opportunities of black voters" and would likely "have a disproportionately adverse impact on black voters in the state."
We believe that there are many voters who simply do not have identification and requiring them to purchase identification would be tantamount to requiring them to pay a poll tax. Moreover, as the Department has argued in the past, the burden of this requirement would fall disproportionately and unfairly upon racial and ethnic minority voters, as well as voters with disabilities, since a disproportionate number have neither identification nor the financial means to acquire it. A burden such as this, which disproportionately affects minorities, would clearly be retrogressive under Section 5 and not subject to preclearance.
We know you to be a man of integrity who takes his responsibilities under the law quite seriously, and we would hope that you will not allow such an obvious and discriminatory limitation on voting rights to take effect particularly during the year of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
We thank you for your immediate attention to this matter and look forward to meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss our views. Please contact us through the Judiciary Committee Staff, Keenan Keller at 202-225-6906, fax 202-225-7680, B-351 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515 so that we may discuss this critical matter with you.
Very Truly Yours,
Cynthia McKinney, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jan Schakowsky, Bernard Sanders, Linda T. Sanchez, Dennis Kucinich, Adam Smith, Russ Feingold, Charles A.Gonzalez, Jose E. Serrano, Ed Towns, Sanford Bishop, Jr., Melvin, L. Watt, David Scott, John Barrow, Chaka Fattah, William J. Jefferson, Bobby Scott, Joseph Crowley, Charles B. Rangel, John Lewis.