Civil Rights Groups Urge Department of Justice to Block New Georgia Photo ID Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
March 29, 2006 12:00 am

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Government Should Not Grant Clearance Under the Voting Rights Act, Advocates Say

ATLANTA – In a letter sent yesterday to federal officials, more than two dozen civil rights, community, religious and citizen advocacy groups, along with a consortium of private attorneys, urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block implementation of the latest Georgia law requiring photo identification as an absolute condition for in-person voting.

The law, S.B. 84, was passed January 26, 2006, and signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue two days later. According to the American Civil Liberties Union and other voting rights advocates, S.B. 84 is an attempt to circumvent some of the problems highlighted by an October 18, 2005 federal court injunction that blocked implementation of Georgia’s original photo ID statute, H.B. 244.

“It is our position that S.B. 84’s modifications to the voter ID requirements…are insignificant and superficial corrections to a deeply flawed statute, and in no way remediate the discriminatory and retrogressive effect of the voter ID requirements established by H.B. 244,” wrote the coalition of more than two dozen groups, including the ACLU, Common Cause/Georgia, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, AARP, League of Women Voters, National Voting Rights Institute and other organizations. “In fact, it is our reasoned opinion that the circumstances surrounding passage of S.B. 84 are even more indicative of the retrogressive nature of the statute than those surrounding enactment of H.B. 244.”

In issuing the injunction last fall, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy of Rome, Georgia, ruled that voting rights advocates have a “substantial likelihood” of succeeding in court on the merits of their claims that the original photo ID requirement passed by the Georgia legislature is an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote and constitutes a poll tax. In response to that ruling, the General Assembly passed S.B. 84 in January, making photo identification available free of charge. However, the new law still fails to address many of the issues raised in the original lawsuit, according to the advocates.

In support of their claim, the groups and private attorneys cite the fact that substantial information was made available to lawmakers and the governor which “amply established that the voter ID requirements promulgated by H.B 244 are discriminatory and retrogressive,” according to their letter. “However, the Legislature did not take appropriate time and consideration in the [2006] legislative session to evaluate and weigh such information, nor did the Legislature address the aspects of the voter ID requirements that are retrogressive, as recognized by Judge Murphy as well as certain members of the staff of the Voting Section, Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.”

“Clearly the supporters of S.B. 84 in the legislature didn’t want to address the root problem of Georgia’s photo ID requirement,” said Neil Bradley, Associate Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, which is helping to challenge the measure. “The original law is discriminatory and unconstitutional and no amount of tinkering can cure the many flaws in this statute.”

In their March 28 letter, the groups urge the Department of Justice not to approve the statute. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia and eight other states (as well as portions of seven others) must submit proposed changes to any voting law or procedure to the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C for pre-approval, or pre-clearance.

The groups also charge that S.B. 84 does nothing to address the Equal Protection claims made in the lawsuit, because absentee voters can still vote without showing any photo identification while a photo ID remains an absolute requirement for in-person voting.

“Georgia didn’t meet its burden under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act the first time around when it failed to prove that the photo ID statute was not retrogressive. Now the state has failed that test again,” said Jon Greenbaum, director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law based in Washington, D.C., and a former attorney in Department of Justice Voting Section.”

Other problems with the new law cited in the letter include:

  • The racially disparate transportation barriers created by the ID requirements.

  • Lower levels of literacy among African Americans in Georgia, which create a disparate impact because absentee balloting inherently disenfranchises more African Americans. For example, the six counties in Georgia with the highest percentage of their voting age population at the lowest literacy levels also have African American populations above 55 percent.
  • The racially disparate impact of the economic obstacles to obtain photo identification stemming from the cost of certain documentation, including certified copies of birth certificates, as well as the cost of taking time off work and traveling to obtain photo ID.
  • African-American voters rely more heavily on the use of signed and sworn voter affidavits to prove their identity (which are eliminated under S.B. 84) instead of photo identification.

    “The Department of Justice should do its job to protect the voting rights of all Georgia citizens,” said Seth Cohen, an attorney with the Atlanta law firm of Kilpatrick Stockton who helped prepare the letter. “We are hopeful that, despite its failure to previously prevent the disfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters under the initial voter ID statute, the Department will align its ruling with that of the federal court and recognize the discriminatory nature of the photo ID requirements passed by the Georgia legislature.”

    The letter is available at:

    A detailed timeline and factsheet are available at:

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