Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Monday, November 21
More on ID and Voting Rights in Georgia
The A.P. reports that one of the sponsors of Georgia' controversial photo ID law is considering making some changes, apparently in response to a federal court order against the law issued last month. State Senator Cecil Staton says the changes might include allowing local government entities to issue photo ID to those who don't have it, and allowing citizens to get ID for free.

Such revisions would make a superficial difference but would have the same practical effect. They would still impose an impediment to voting, forcing people to wait in one line to get their photo identification, only for the privilege of waiting in another line to vote. In short, it's a tax on voters' time, one that will have a disparate impact on certain groups. Unfortunately, Senator Staton overlooks a much more obvious alternative: getting rid of the law entirely, given the absence of evidence of voters appearing at the polling place pretending to be someone they're not.

The AP report also notes the racial divide that lies just beneath the surface of the ID debate. Along with elderly, disabled, and poor citizens, African Americans are less likely to have state-issued photo-identification -- and ID laws thus impose a greater burden on them than on white voters. At least one Georgia legislator, Sue Burmeister of Augusta, reportedly was up front expressing a racial (if not racist) motivation for the law. According to the Justice Department's 51-page memo released last week: "Rep. 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 precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls." (Predictably, Burmeister denies making these statements.)

While it's not common for legislators to make such explicit statements suggesting a racial motivation for ID laws, these remarks are nevertheless telling. The reported justification for Georgia's ID bill bears a striking similarity to those made by white politicians in the South at the turn of the last Century, during which black voting rights were suppressed through such devices as literacy tests. The common rationale is that these measures were needed to promote "good government."

Yet amazingly, against this racially charged backdrop, some Georgia Republicans are mobilizing to oppose reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act according to this A.P. report. They claim that the provisions requiring Georgia and other states to obtain "preclearance" of electoral changes is unfair, asserting that they're being blamed for the "sins of [their] forefathers" -- and ones for which their party isn't even responsible to boot. Apparently, they've not been paying attention to the voter ID debate ... or to their own actions.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University