24 September – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has joined a consortium of voting rights advocates and private attorneys in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the Georgia law (House Bill 244) that requires voters to present state issued photo identification at the polls. The plaintiffs charge the law violates the state and federal constitutions, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Dennis C. Hayes, NAACP General Counsel said: “Georgia’s voting identification law threatens to disfranchise an entire class of people, especially the poor, the elderly and minorities who do not have a driver license and cannot afford the fee for a state approved identification card. This law amounts to a poll tax which was declared unconstitutional decades ago.”
The Georgia voter identification law reduces the various forms of identification that voters can use from 17 to six, and makes government issued photo identification absolutely required in order to vote. People without a driver license, may purchase a five-year identification card for a $20 fee. The measure was signed into law in April by Governor Sonny Perdue.
The lawsuit was filed against state and local election officials and asks the federal court to declare H.B. 244 “unconstitutional, null and void,” and issue both a preliminary and permanent injunction against implementation of the law. The Court has scheduled a hearing for a preliminary injunction motion on the Complaint for October 12 at 10 AM in Rome, Georgia.
“Once again African Americans in Georgia must seek justice from the federal courts to protect us from state officials who are eager to deprive us of our fundamental right to vote,” said Walter C. Butler, President of the NAACP Georgia State Conference of Branches, which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Hayes said voting rights advocates decided to file the lawsuit after the U.S. Department of Justice granted clearance to the measure on August 26. Because of Georgia’s history of voting discrimination, the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires that any changes to election laws or voting procedures receive clearance from federal officials before going into effect.
In addition to its constitutional and legal claims, the lawsuit contends that the stated purpose of Georgia’s photo ID requirement – to deter voter fraud – was a pretext “intended to conceal the true purpose of the amendment, which was, and is to suppress voting by the poor, the elderly, the infirm, African American, Hispanic and other minority voters by increasing the difficulty of voting.”
According to voting rights experts, a majority of 30 states do not require registered voters to present any form of identification as a condition of voting, while a minority of 20 states require voters to present some form of ID. Of these 20, only two (Georgia and Indiana) require voters to present a photo ID as the sole method of identification in order to vote.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say H.B. 244:
Violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it treats voters unequally.
Violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act because it results in the denial of voting rights to African-American and Latino voters.
Violates the Georgia Constitution because it creates an entirely new set of voting qualifications beyond those specified in the State Constitution.
Violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it applies different standards for voters who vote in person compared to those who vote by absentee ballot and disqualifies voters based solely on whether they have a government-issued photo ID, even if they are personally known to election officials, or their signatures match the one on their official voter registration card.
In addition to the NAACP, other organizational plaintiffs include: Common Cause/Georgia, the League of Women Voters of Georgia; the Central Presbyterian Outreach and Advocacy Center; the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials; the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and; Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta. Other groups that are providing legal counsel to the effort include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), AARP, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The lawsuit was filed also on behalf of two individual voters: Tony Watkins, an African American resident of Rome, and Clara Williams, an African American resident of Fulton County. Each of the individual plaintiffs is legally registered and qualified to vote, but does not possess a Georgia driver’s license, passport or other form of photo ID specified in H.B. 244.