Latest challenge to Georgia elections laws may help poor, disabled
by David Godow
A new lawsuit over Georgia's voter registration practices has once again made the Peach State a battlefield in a struggle over a nationwide struggle over election security.
The war over Georgia's election law is not new; it's been going on for over five years. Way back in 2005, the state government passed a law requiring voters to present a photo ID when registering to vote. The measure was justified as an improvement to security following the highly public failure of neighboring Florida's election systems during the 2000 presidential contest. Democrats and their supporters claimed that the measure violated the constitutional right to vote of key parts of their base -- poor and minority voters -- who may not have drivers licenses or free voter ID cards. After lengthy litigation, the Georgia Supreme Court found the law permissible under the state constitution this March.
Now, a new lawsuit filed Monday by the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP and the Georgia People's Agenda will have a go at a different part of Georgia election law. Instead of challenging the photo ID provision, the plaintiffs argue that Georgia's election officials, headed by Secretary of State Brian Kemp, have failed to uphold the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. That bill, otherwise known as the "motor voter" law, allows citizens to register to vote at the same time they renew their drivers licenses or apply for social services; the plaintiffs argue the state has failed to do so. Kemp argues that the challenge is "meritless," suggesting the groups behind the lawsuit were interested more in "grabbing headlines" than real election reform.
The NAACP/GPA lawsuit makes reference to the photo ID requirement, arguing that the NVRA specifically applies to the poor and disabled who might not have a drivers license but still collect social services. The plaintiffs also point to Ohio and Missouri, where reforms meant to comply with NVRA substantially increased voter registration.
By demanding that Georgia distribute voter registration materials more assiduously to those who collect social services, the NAACP and its allies may be hoping to accomplish the same objective as the failed photo ID challenge. It remains to be seen whether they will be more successful this time around.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Ga. Democrats sue over voter ID law," May 29, 2008. (dead link)
Courthouse News Service, "Georgia Squelched Poor Folks' Voting Registrations, NAACP Says," June 9, 2011.
AP, "Ga. elections chief calls voter registration lawsuit 'meritless'," June 9, 2011.