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Georgia Democratic Party Sues over Voter ID

By Alice Gordon, Staff Writer, The Atlanta Progressive News (September 07, 2008)

(APN) ATLANTA -- On May 23rd 2008 the Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia in Superior Court of Fulton County for requiring a photo ID in order to vote. In a parallel case, the party is suing in State court as well, based on the Georgia Constitution.

While the Court declined to issue an emergency injunction against Georgia’s implementing the new voter ID laws in time for the recent Primary, the potentially monumental case is making its way through the Court system, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

Attorneys for the Party include Jason Carter, grandson of former President Carter; Emmanuel Bondurant; and David Brackett.

"We’re waiting on a hearing on our suit. We’re going through the discovery process to get ready for the hearing," Martin Matheny, spokesman for the Georgia Democratic Party, said of the lawsuit’s current status.

The complaint includes three main claims. First, it argues the act of showing a photographic identification from the State was not included in the Constitution of Georgia as a condition of voting.

Second, it argues such a requirement discriminates against Black voters, who as a whole tend to own fewer cars and have fewer pieces of photo identification than other Georgians.

Finally, it argues the law is retroactive and places an undue burden on the rights of Georgians to vote.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY NOW HAS STANDING

The new lawsuit takes advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court of the US stated in a footnote that political parties can have standing to sue on behalf of voters regarding voter ID laws. Previously, the Democratic Party had been unable to sue in Georgia.

The Supreme Court of the US issued the footnote in a recent ruling regarding a case involving Indiana voter ID laws, which the Court heard in January 2008. The Supreme Court said Indiana’s laws were constitutional; however, the situation in Georgia is so different from that in Indiana, that the Democratic Party of Georgia now feels they have a strong case to make.

For example, the voter rolls of Indiana were in fact bloated with dead voters and persons who had in fact left the state. This is not the case in Georgia because former Secretary of State Cathy Cox had the state voter rolls purged monthly of dead voters based on information from the Vital Statistics of the State.

Also, all but 1.5 percent of the voters had photo ID in Indiana, Emmanuel Bondurant, attorney for the plaintiff, told Atlanta Progressive News.

In Georgia, 10% of the registered voters do not have Georgia driver’s licenses or state IDs; 289,000 either never had one or it has been canceled or revoked. This data is derived from records from the defendant in the case, the State of Georgia, which compared the rolls of registered voters against the driver’s license data, according to Bondurant.

In Georgia, the plaintiffs argue, the cost of the law to voters is much higher, even while the benefits are much lower.

DIFFERENCES WITH PREVIOUS GEORGIA CASE

Two years ago, in 2006, former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) had sued regarding the Voter ID laws on behalf of Rosalind A. Lake, a poor Black woman. At that time, Judges Bedford and Moreland ruled the legislation results in unconstitutional disenfranchisement of voters.

The State Supreme Court, however, ruled the voter Identification law is constitutional. According to Bondurant, they ducked the main issue saying that because the plaintiff was disabled and had a MARTA Card with a photo, this should be sufficient ID to register to vote.

According to Bondurant, however, the MARTA Card would not have been acceptable under the law for registration at the time.

The same issue of Constitutionality will be addressed in the new case, but the injured party has changed according to attorney David Brackett, another attorney for the Party.

There is optimism the court case will succeed this time.

Two Georgia courts involved in the first case called voter ID photo laws unconstitutional. The last ruling in 2007 was based on the technicality that the plaintiff, Ms. Lake, would not have been injured.

The Democratic Party is the plaintiff in the present case and has stated it will have to put additional resources to use in having people who are already registered Democrats obtain the required identification, as well as others.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

"The Georgia Constitution is strict about the conditions under which you can register to vote," Martin Matheny, spokesman for the Georgia Democratic Party, told Atlanta Progressive News.

"You must be a US citizen, a Georgia resident, and 18 years old. Only two conditions keep a citizen from registering: those who are convicted felons and those found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial," Matheny said.

On June 30, 2008, Karen Handel wrote her reply, obtained by Atlanta Progressive News, in which she denied the allegations that the measure was unconstitutional and placed undue burdens on poor, elderly and Black people. She agreed the measure had been passed along strict party lines in the Georgia legislature.

According to the attorney representing the State of Georgia in the current challenge to the state’s voter identification legislation, the Democrats have failed to produce even one voter harmed by the photo requirement.

However, the Party is making the reverse claim: that the State showed no compelling case that voter fraud was a real issue in Georgia that needed to be addressed through Voter ID laws in the first place.

Thus, the Party is arguing there was no evidence of need for the law. The State is arguing there is no evidence of harm from the law.

"I am surprised that Karen Handel, who is in charge of voting, would not be supporting us on this... if you ask her she will say that there has never been a case of fraud in in-person voting in the State of Georgia. It is up there with the Loch Ness monster and Sasquatch," Matheny said.

Part of the constitutionality debate involves the question over whether Voter ID fits into the same category as legislation creating poll taxes or establishing literacy tests, which are designed to keep Blacks—who tend to vote Democratic about 88% of the time—away from the polls.

On the other hand, Republicans have claimed Voter ID is a security issue.

The Indiana case, which the Supreme Court of the US heard earlier this year, is what is legally considered a "facial challenge" to the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID legislation.

The Indiana ID law was challenged as contrary to the 1st and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution involving freedom of speech and citizenship rights; and the plaintiffs claimed that the legislation was unconstitutional by its own terms--on its face-- without any need to look at a specific injured party or examining the way it has been applied in any particular case because requiring an ID in order to vote always results in the disenfranchisement of qualified voters.

The Supreme Court of the US found that the benefits of the Voter Identification law in Indiana outweighed the risk of disenfranchisement on the face of the law.

Bondurant explained to Atlanta Progressive News several reasons why the Georgia challenge could succeed in federal court.

Three of the justices in the US Supreme Court decision dissented from the majority opinion and were of the opinion that the Indiana legislation was unconstitutional.

Moreover, the Georgia case is "an as applied challenge," meaning that in order to succeed on the constitutional challenge, the disenfranchisement of certain groups must be demonstrated rather than making the case that the law is unconstitutional as written.

According to the 2000 census, 149,000 Black households in Georgia did not have cars versus 89,000 White households without cars.

Justice Stevens on the US Supreme Court, although he voted with the majority opinion in the Indiana case, laid the foundation for the present challenge to Georgia’s voter ID legislation.

Stevens said that if the decision of the court creates a burden for some citizens, then the state must justify the legislation by showing that its value is greater than the burden it creates. The state must also show that there are no other less burdensome ways to achieve the same goal.

ID REQUIREMENTS

The present voter requirements include as acceptable 1. a Georgia driver’s license, even if expired; 2. a valid state or federal government issued photo ID, including one issued by the Department of Driver Services or your county registrar’s office; 3. a Valid U.S military photo ID; 4. Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the us Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality , board, authority or other entity of this state; 5. Valid U.S. military photo ID; and 6. Valid tribal photo ID.

Alternatively, a Georgia resident could obtain a free Voter ID card; this was not part of the original law passed by the legislature in 2005. However, the legislature went back in 2006 to add the Voter ID option in order to address concerns that IDs were too expensive for some citizens to obtain.

Both versions of the Voter ID legislation, however, eliminated several types of identification that had previously been eligible. Previously, 17 types of ID had been eligible.

Upon calling the number listed on the Georgia State government website (877-725-9797) to ask about the free voter ID card, a telephone attendant advised that voters without identification needed to have proof of their legal name and birth, or a photo identity document.

Callers are also advised that they must have documentation of their residence, with full name and address, and evidence of being registered as a voter, in order to obtain a Voter ID.

However, it is not immediately clear what would constitute “proof of legal name and birth” or “documentation of residence.” Also, it is not clear why, if someone had a photo identity document, they would need to get a Voter ID.

"With something as important as this, clearly you’d think they’d want to explain it as clearly as possibly so everyone could vote as hassle-free as possible," Matheny said.

The Secretary of State’s hotline originally gave inconsistent information to Atlanta Progressive News.

Whereas, a Georgia citizen can fill out a voter registration form and send it in to get registered, the hotline operator first said to send in a copy of residence or proof of identity and that these would be required if registering at the county office.

When asked specifically if these were required a second time, the operator said one need only send in the card and confirm identity at the polls on Election Day with the voter identification requirements above.

Voters are not required to include any identification when voting absentee by mail, according to literature provided by Dekalb County.

About the author:

Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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