ACLU Condemns U.S. Justice Department Decision to Approve Georgia Photo ID Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
August 26, 2005 12:00 am

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Decision Will Discriminate Against Disabled, Elderly, Low-Income and Minority Voters; ACLU Vows Legal Challenge

ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union today sharply criticized a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to approve a new Georgia law that voting rights advocates say will discriminate against minority voters. The measure, H.B. 244, which was passed on March 31 and signed by Governor Sonny Perdue in April, reduces the various forms of identification that voters can use from 17 to six, and makes government-issued photo identification absolutely required in order to vote.

“This decision is extremely disturbing because H.B. 244, which will undoubtedly make minority voters worse off, is exactly the kind of law that the Voting Rights Act was designed to block,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.

McDonald added that there was no evidence that the photo ID bill was needed, noting that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox wrote to Governor Perdue on April 8, 2005, and urged him not to sign the bill into law. In her letter, Secretary Cox said, “I cannot recall one documented case of voter fraud during my tenure as Secretary of State or Assistant Secretary of State that specifically related to the impersonation of a registered voter at voting polls.” Secretary Cox also said the justification for the law as a measure to combat voter fraud was “a pretext.”

The vote on the bill in the Georgia General Assembly was almost entirely on party lines, McDonald also noted, with Republicans voting for the measure and Democrats against it. McDonald added that the entire Georgia Legislative Black Caucus staged a public walkout in protest over the measure. “The new law will not only suppress the votes of racial minorities, but those of the poor, the disabled, and those living in retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and in rural areas,” he said. “It is quite alarming to see such obvious political partisanship impact the fundamental voting rights of citizens of the state.”

“If this law is implemented, Georgia will have the most draconian voter identification requirement in the nation,” McDonald concluded. “This isn’t the end of the issue. We and others certainly intend to challenge this decision in court under state and federal law.”

According to the Voting Rights Project, which has brought more than 300 lawsuits to enforce minority voting rights since 1980, the Voting Rights Act requires that any changes to election laws in nine states, including Georgia, as well as portions of seven others, receive clearance from federal officials before going into effect. Department of Justice officials waited until late Friday afternoon to issue their decision giving the green light to the Georgia law.

In numerous formal letters sent to the Department of Justice in recent weeks, dozens of civil rights, religious, labor and advocacy groups, including prominent legal scholars and other experts in voting law, had urged the Department of Justice to block implementation of the measure citing various data that they say shows the racially discriminatory impact of H.B. 244. Copies of this correspondence can be found at:

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