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Friday, November 18, 2005

Sometimes It Really *Is* A Poll Tax.

There has been some discussion recently about the change to the Georgia Voter ID requirements. With some commentators likening the need to have one of 6 forms of photographic identification (the acceptable list used to have 17 choices. Those who do not have a current driver’s license are required to obtain a special “Voter ID card,” at a cost of $20 and would be valid for 5 years (a $35 fee nets a card valid for 10 years). The legislature effecting the change was passed in March of 2005.

This “Voter ID card” can be obtained at a Georgia Department of Driver’s Services (DDS) -- (formerly known as the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles).

However, the card can only be obtained in DDS offices in 59 of Georgia’s 159 counties.

The State of Georgia is under extra scrutiny because section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires 9 States, including Georgia, to submit any change to their voting procedures, or voting identification requirements to the federal government for review to determine if these changes will affect any minority group’s voting eligibility. The Department of Justice can either halt the changes by issuing an “objection” or can issue a “pre-clearance letter” to allow the changes to proceed.

In August, a team of 5 analysts at the Justice Department’s Civil Right’s division issued a memo with 4 of the 5 recommending that the proposed changes to the voter identification process be blocked by an “objection.” The next day, the chief of the DOJ Voting Rights section sent a letter to the responsible Georgia officials that their changes could go through, and that “The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes.”

On October 18 of 2005, the changes were blocked by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy, who characterized the change as a de-facto “poll tax.”

On October 27 a three-judge appellate panel (11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals), with 2 Republican and one Democratic appointee, upheld the injunction.

The proponents for the change said they needed it to combat voter fraud. Those opposed said it was a bid to restrict voting by minorities, who are perceived to vote for more Democratic candidates and issues identified with Democrats than Republicans. The Georgia Secretary of State has said that voter fraud has not been a problem during her tenure in that office.

The evidence supplied to the DOJ in support of the change was, according to the staff memo, inaccurate and misleading (as an example, one of the developers of the legislation, State Representative Sue Burmeister claimed
“that the Governor of Georgia had passed legislation to mandate a DDS office in every county, and that individuals could obtain state ID cards in Kroger grocery stores. Neither statement is correct. The Governor’s office has confirmed that the Georgia General Assembly has passed no legislation mandating a DDS office in every county. The latter statement refers to a program that was discontinued in 2003 whereby the state had operated satellite diver’s [sic] license renewal centers in some Kroger stores”

(Above from page 6 of the staff memo)

As noted above, there are not DDS offices in all of Georgia’s counties. The city of Atlanta does not currently have a DDS office (I verified this by querying the Georgia DDS website -- I entered a ZIP code of 30344 (a common Atlanta ZIP) to find an office, and no offices were listed within Atlanta itself.) According to Thursday's Washington Post article, it has not had one since 2004.

According to Georgia DDS officials, 5 of the 56 DDS sites are accessible by public transportation. The other 56 are accessible only by personal transportation or by taking a taxi.

There is also now a Georgia Licensing-On-Wheels (GLOW) program being offered, where a bus will go to various locations in the state and will allow for driver’s license renewal or replacement. Individuals can also request a voter’s ID card, and can register to vote at the those wishing an ID card there. However, the state estimates that they will be able to issue no more 200 ID cards (license or voter) per day, and the voter registrations will not be processed until the computer files are either transmitted to DDS headquarters in the evening, or when the GLOW computers are returned to DDS headquarters.

The Georgia Division of Public Health’s own website states that applicants may expect that as long as 10 to 12 weeks may be required to process routine requests for certified copies, if the request is received by regular mail (if someone can afford to send the request by an overnight delivery service, and pays the extra fee, they can expect their request to be processed with 3 to 5 business days.)

Because of the paucity of DDS locations, and the fees (although there is a process for someone who is indigent to obtain a voter ID card, many of the documents required are not ones that many who are indigent would have (for example, is someone is without a job, and living with friends or relatives, one will not have bank statements, utility bills or rent receipts, and one may not be able to afford the fee for a certified copy of a birth certificate -- especially is one was not born in the locale where you are now living)) this change in requirements is seen by many to be regressive.

Some of the commentary from elected officials also casts doubts on whether there is another agenda. For example, Rep. Burmeister wrote to the DOJ, in support of this change in requirements:

“...Representative Burmeister said that if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said that when black voters in her black precinct are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls..”

(Page 6 of the memo)

When Georgia’s Voter ID law was first enacted in 1997, there was no objection, because there were provisions that allowed for immediate voting, with a sworn statement, if the person wishing to vote did not have “acceptable” ID. This provision meant that nobody would be turned away from the polls.

In 2003 that law was amended to *add* classes of identification to the acceptable list. There was no objection from the Department of Justice because the law expanded access, not restricted it.

In an update on Friday (11/18/05), the Justice Department is now claiming

Justice spokesman Eric Holland said in a statement that the 51-page memo "was an early draft that did not include data and analysis from other voting section career attorneys who recognized the absence of a retrogressive effect." He said the document contained "analytical flaws" and "factual errors."

"The early draft . . . does not represent the quality of factual and legal analysis that the Justice Department expects in a final product," Holland said


The Justice Department has declined to release documents related to the decision, saying they are internal work product.

I wonder, however, just how much "extra review" that DOJ did between August 26 (the date of the memo)and August 27 (the date that DOJ told Georgia that the law was "cleared")

The text of the memo, obtained by the Washington Post can be found here (these are all PDF files):

Pages 1-11
Pages 12-19
Pages 20-31
Pages 32-38
Pages 39-51

Yesterday's (Thursday) coverage from the Washington Post is here ("Critisism of Voting Law Was Overruled")

Today's (11/18/05) update from the Washington Post ("Justice Plays Down Memo Critical of Ga. Voter ID Plan")

Coverage from the Washington Times on the preliminary injunction is here("Georgia Voter ID law blocked")

Coverage from the Washington Post of the appeal decision is here ("Georgia voter ID law overturned by court")

The summary of the preliminary injunction is here (PDF file)

Many thanks to The Carpetbagger Report ("The Mask comes off Georgia's voter-ID law"), for keeping this in our faces.


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