Most “Devastating” Election Reform Gains Support in Georgia

Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

by Erin Ferns

If you wanted to register to vote today, would you be able to provide a copy of a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers? Would those documents reflect your current name?

If you are like the 13 million Americans who do not have ready access to citizenship documents, or the 32 million voting-age women who do not have such documents with their current, legal name, then you would simply not be able to vote. That is a risk that several states are willing to make – a risk that is considered “even more devastating” than other restrictive election reforms this legislative session.

Last week, the Georgia Senate introduced yet another proof-of-citizenship bill with full support from Republican secretary of state (and gubernatorial hopeful) Karen Handel, according to the Associated Press. Georgia is one of eight states to consider proof of citizenship requirements this year, and is already home to one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation.

“Voting rights advocates complained that the new Georgia voter registration bill raises some of the same constitutional concerns as the state's original photo ID law by mandating that voters have identification that costs money to obtain,” the AP reported.

“These citizenship bills are even more devastating than the ID bills; they hit a lot more people,'' Neil Bradley, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project told the AP.

Increasingly gaining popularity as a reform for “election integrity,” citizenship requirements have the potential to affect millions of Americans, including low-income and women voters. Polling data by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law explains how citizenship requirements before registering to vote creates obstacles to voting:

 

– 13 million individuals do not have ready access to documentation, including passports, naturalization papers, or birth certificates

– 12 percent of citizens earning less thatn $25,000 per year do not have ready access to documentation

– Less than half (48%) of voting age women with ready access to citizenship documents have them with current, legal name.

If it passes a citizenship requirement, Georgia would join Arizona in legalizing voter disenfranchisement. Since adopting the measure in 2004, more than 38,000 voter registration applications in Arizona have been thrown out, according to a May 2008 report in the New York Times. “More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed.”

“Current Georgia law requires those registering to vote only to 'swear or affirm' that they are a U.S. citizen by checking a box on the application,” the AP reports. While there were no figures to prove non-citizen voting is an issue in Georgia, Handel's office claims it is “investigating several allegations of non-citizens registering to vote,” but could not say who made the allegation or how many claims have been made, according to AP. Instead Handel's spokesperson offered flimsy evidence of a currently challenged 2008 effort to verify citizenship of new voter applicants, which found “4,700 people who might not be citizens.”

It was “never determined whether any of those flagged voters were, in fact, not citizens,” the AP reports.

To monitor the progress of Georgia's proof-of-citizenship bills, visit www.ElectionLegislation.org.

 

Quick Links:
“Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans' Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification.” The Brennan Center For Justice. November 2006.

 

In Other News:

Voter ID, early voting bill passes – Hattiesburg American [Miss.]
Mississippians will be able to vote early and must show photo identification at the polls in a bill that cleared the state House on Wednesday.

Election official proposes change to Minnesota laws – Rochester Post Bulletin [Minn.]
ST. PAUL — Minnesota's top election official on Wednesday proposed dozens of changes to state law after an unsettled Senate race put a microscope on everything from absentee balloting to the recount process.