Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel on Wednesday said she has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to reconsider its ruling that the state’s system of verifying voters’ unfairly flags minorities for extra scrutiny.
Handel had two options to continue the program: ask the Justice Department to reconsider or appeal its decision to the U.S. District Court in Washington.
“It is my hope that the Department of Justice will review this request, with the information and data provided, and grant preclearance to the state of Georgia for these verificdation processes,” Handel said in a statement.
Handel, also a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, has slammed the decision as being politically motivated by President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration. She has consistently referred to the decision as having come from “Obama’s Justice Department.” That phrase, however, was absent from Wednesday’s release.
Handel devised the voter verification system in response to the federal Help Americans Vote Act, which requires states to verify citizens’ identities before allowing them to register to vote. But Handel took the process a step further and also created a system to verify voters’ citizenship.
The Justice Department, in reviewing the system after it was put in place, found that of the 7,000 individuals flagged as potential “non-citizens,” more than half were actually U.S. citizens.
Furthermore, the department found, those flagged as non-citizens were overwhelmingly black, Asian or Hispanic.
“These burdens are real, are substantial and are retrogressive for minority voters, ” Loretta King, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a letter to the state in May.
Handel never submitted the new system for Justice Department approval before implementing it. She believed that since the federal HAVA law required the system, preclearance from DOJ wasn’t necessary. Georgia and several other states are required, under the Voting Rights Act, to gain DOJ approval before making any changes to state voting and election laws.
But the Justice Department — then controlled by President George W. Bush — having been informed about the new voter verification system first by the Obama campaign, and later through a federal lawsuit, ordered Georgia to submit the system for review.