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September 25, 2013

Georgia’s Voter ID Lawsuit, Seven Years Later: Disenfranchised, or Still Voting?

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The recent passage of a voter ID law in North Carolina has sparked opponents to issue the same polemic statements that always accompany these reform efforts.

Phrases like “poll tax,” “suppression,” and even “the new face of Jim Crow” filled dispatches from Georgia media and liberal advocacy groups back in 2005, when Georgia passed an almost identical law. Just like in North Carolina today, Georgia’s law was called a “deceitful, devious plan to deny votes to hundreds of thousands” by “callous lawmakers determined to restrict the franchise. “Georgia now has the most draconian voter identification requirement in the nation,” claimed Neil Bradley, associate director of the Atlanta-based ACLU Voting Rights Project. Reverend Nelson B. Rivers, COO of the NAACP, called it “one of the worst anti-voting-rights laws in modern times.”

The outrage back then is almost identical to the outrage expressed now over North Carolina’s law by everyone from Eric Holder to Hillary Clinton. However, the Georgia law has now been in place for seven years: has it had the effect that opponents swore it would have, and that critics of North Carolina’s law say their proposed law will have?

When Common Cause Georgia — a liberal “citizens’ lobby organization” — originally filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 over Georgia’s voter ID law along with a number of other plaintiffs, the organization claimed that hundreds of thousands of Georgians would be unable to vote. They produced witness after witness — who signed affidavits under penalty of perjury — claiming that they did not have a photo ID and could not obtain the free Georgia photo ID the law provided, and therefore would be turned away at the polls. The plaintiffs lost their lawsuit (as well as a state court action) after the federal court concluded that the law was neither discriminatory nor a burden on voters, and that none of them would be unable to vote.

Was the court wrong? Were the claims of these witnesses true? Were these individual Georgians prevented from casting their ballots?

Official state voting records show that the court was right. Many of these witnesses — again, who signed affidavits — went on to vote in the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections.

Clara Williams was a 68-year-old African-American resident of Fulton County, Georgia, and a named plaintiff in Common Cause’s suit. Because she had been adopted, Mrs. Williams swore in an affidavit that she was “afraid that election officials will not allow me to vote because I do not have (and cannot obtain) a Georgia Photo ID in my name as it appears on my voter registration.”

But voting records show she voted in local elections in 2009, and in state and federal elections in 2010 and 2012.

When Amanda Clifton got a divorce in 2005 and changed her name, she swore the same thing in an affidavit: “I am afraid that election officials will not allow me to vote because I do not have (and cannot obtain) a Georgia Photo ID in my name as it appears on my voter registration.”

But voting records show that Clifton voted in the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections.

Annie Johnson, then a 75-year-old African-American woman, cited economic hardship, physical disability, and the lack of a car as reasons why she would be unable to vote.

Annie Johnson voted in 2008, 2010, and 2012.

Ronnie Gibson, then a 49-year-old African-American man, signed an affidavit fearing disenfranchisement because he did not have and could not obtain a free photo ID card.

Georgia records show that he had no problems voting in the 2008, 2010, and 2012 elections.

Ruth Butler, then an 89-year-old white resident of DeKalb County, claimed she would be “unable to obtain a photo identification card without great personal and economic hardship.”

But there she was, voting in 2008, 2010, and 2012.

Betty Kooper (90), Pearl Kramer (80), Norma Pechman (84), Eva Jeffrey, and Cheryl Simmons (45) all cited economic hardship as the reason for their inability to get a Georgia ID card, yet all of them voted in the 2008 election. (Several of these voters have passed away since voting in 2008.)

Georgia voting records disprove the insistent claims that voter ID laws strip minority and elderly voters of the right to vote. These witnesses, after signing sworn affidavits that they did not have and could not obtain a Georgia voter ID card, nevertheless did obtain ID cards and did cast their ballots.

Similar sky-is-falling claims are now being raised over the North Carolina and the Texas voter ID laws, and these claims will doubtless prove to be as baseless as the claims from Georgia. (Several faux martyrs [4] have already been identified by critics of these new laws.)

The Department of Justice also recently launched a suit against Texas, claiming that the Texas law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against black and Hispanic voters. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act forbids any voting qualification that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizens of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” The complaint against Texas claims that lower income and car-ownership rates will make it more difficult for blacks and Hispanics, in comparison to whites, to obtain a photo ID.

The complaint in the original Georgia case also made such claims. A number of the witnesses in the Georgia case signed affidavits citing their economic circumstances, or the inability to drive, or the fact that they could not afford a car as a major reason for their supposed inability to obtain a voter ID. Several of the production-line affidavits read: “I have certain circumstances that make my obtaining a Georgia identification card burdensome. In particular, my economic circumstances make me unable to obtain a photo identification card without great personal and economic hardship, I am not able to afford a car, and I do not have the economic means” to obtain the free voter ID card.

These Georgia voters managed to meet the requirements of the law and to vote after the court rejected their hyperbolic claims. Further, and contrary to what opponents said would happen in Georgia and Indiana, whose ID law was upheld up the U.S. Supreme Court, the turnout of minority voters went up, not down, in those states after the ID law was implemented.

So the next time you read a story about the supposed martyrs who will never be able to vote because of these “terrible” new ID laws, keep in mind what actually occurred in Georgia, and the deceitful tactics of the ID law opponents.

- Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in PJ Media.

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