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Published in the Atlantic Journal Constitution 11/25/05

Recent reports in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution have confused and misrepresented the decision-making process at the Department of Justice concerning preclearance of Georgia's changes to its voter identification statute.

The leaked internal memorandum that has generated the attention was merely a draft that did not incorporate the analytical work and extensive research conducted by all the attorneys assigned to the matter. Most disturbingly, this paper has neglected to mention that the leaked memorandum did not represent the recommendation of the veteran career chief of the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section, to whom preclearance approval decisions are expressly delegated by federal regulation.

The chief's well-grounded and solidly reasoned recommendation, in which I concurred as the acting assistant attorney general, was that the Georgia statute was clearly not racially retrogressive within the limited scope of the Voting Rights Act.

This matter arose when Georgia recently amended its voter identification statute by changing the number of acceptable documents that individuals must present before voting. Georgia is one of at least 17 states that mandate identification from voters, and there is no evidence that such requirements have had any adverse impact on minority voters.

Georgia's corrected data - which were not incorporated in the leaked memo - indicate that African-American citizens are actually slightly more likely than white citizens to possess one of the necessary forms of identification.

The number of eligible Georgia voters who hold no acceptable form of photo identification is extremely small. Indeed, almost 6.5 million Georgians hold some form of photo identification issued by the Department of Driver Services, a number considerably higher than the almost 4.5 million registered voters in the state and almost identical to the Census Bureau's projection of Georgia's total voting age population.

While most voters will likely rely on DDS-issued identification at the polls, it is also important to note that some of the other acceptable forms of identification - student and government-employer IDs - are held as frequently, if not more frequently, by African-Americans than whites in Georgia, according to the data. In other words, the best statistics suggest that African-Americans will not be disproportionately affected by Georgia's new voter identification provisions.

Concerns have been raised about the $20 cost of obtaining a driver's license/ identification card. But the state waives the fee for anyone claiming an inability to pay, and no effort is made to verify indigency.

Moreover, the state has introduced a mobile licensing center for those who prefer not to travel to a DDS office.

Finally, this newspaper's coverage could be read to imply that the Justice Department has come under criticism by the courts for its preclearance decision. The department's preclearance was not at issue in the federal lawsuit in Georgia. Although the district court issued a preliminary injunction against the Georgia ID law on constitutional grounds -issues which, under Supreme Court case law, are entirely irrelevant to the Section 5 analysis and are currently on appeal in the 11th Circuit - the court also concluded there was insufficient evidence to support a vote denial claim pursuant to the Voting Rights Act.

Attorneys of the Voting Section have worked diligently to enforce voting laws and have achieved concrete, measurable advances for a record number of minority voters. We are enormously proud of this accomplishment.


Page last updated December 22, 2005.

General Information Office of the Assistant Attorney General
Vanita Gupta
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
(202) 514-4609
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