Update in bold below, at 5:25 p.m.
The U.S. Justice Department has rejected a program put together by Secretary of State Karen Handel to comb through state databases to detect ineligible voters who may not be U.S. citizens, calling it both inaccurate and discriminatory.
The system was used last year, in the months before the 2008 general election.
Download the DOJ letter here. It says, in part:
We have considered the accuracy of the state’s verification process. Our analysis shows that the state’s process does not produce accurate and reliable information and that thousands of citizens who are in fact eligible to vote under Georgia law have been flagged….
An error as simple as transposition of one digit of a driver[s] license can lead to an erroneous notation of a non-match…..
….Although the state has not provided data on the racial and language minority characteristics of all registrants whose applications went through the verification process, we have been able to compare the composition of those persons whom the state has flagged for further inquiry because of a non-match with both the composition of newly registered voters in the state and the composition of existing registered voters….
[A]pplicants who are Hispanic, Asian or African-American are more likely than white applicants, to statistically significant degrees, to be flagged for additional scrutiny….
The Justice Department declined to share the stats that it said proved discrimination. “Internal deliberations and discussions regarding charging decisions are not something we can provide,” a spokesman said.
Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican candidate for governor, condemned the decision in a statement released this morning, saying it would open the floodgates to non-qualified voters. Handel also said the DOJ was a participant in the decision-making process that produced the program:
The decision by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to deny preclearance of Georgia’s already implemented citizenship verification process shows a shocking disregard for the integrity of our elections.
With this decision, DOJ has now barred Georgia from continuing the citizenship verification program that DOJ lawyers helped to craft. DOJ’s decision also nullifies the orders of two federal courts directing Georgia to implement the procedure for the 2008 general election.
The decision comes seven months after Georgia requested an expedited review of the preclearance submission.
DOJ has thrown open the door for activist organizations such as ACORN to register non-citizens to vote in Georgia’s elections, and the state has no ability to verify an applicant’s citizenship status or whether the individual even exists…. Clearly, politics took priority over common sense and good public policy.
Pay attention to this. This is the first Obama administration judgment on an election law passed by a Republican-dominated General Assembly.
It could be an indication of how the Justice Department will react to S.B. 86, a measure signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue last month which would require every new voter to present proof of citizenship upon registration.
Nor are all Republicans united on this. Randy Evans, the Republican appointee to the State Elections Board, called the screening program a “terrible waste of taxpayer dollars and a slap in the face of Latino voters.”
“And yes, I know this is the requested approval from the DOJ from the case from last year — in advance of the new legislation that is the SoS codification of the compromise ruling. But from the DOJ perspective, they are one and the same,” he wrote in one of two e-mails this afternoon.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering arguments on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval of all changes to election law in Georgia and several other states with a history of discrimination.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican from Sharpsburg who has been critical of Georgia’s continued inclusion in the mandates of the Voting Rights Act, added the following this afternoon:
“Justice’s ruling in this case is so transparently political that I’d hate to be the person at the department who had to put the right spin on this junk.
This goes to the heart of what I’ve been trying to say about the problem with ‘preclearance’: It creates a self-justifying cycle.
Georgia works with the federal government on a plan, we submit the plan to those exact same people, and they then ‘discover’ some violation of civil rights and use that as evidence that Georgia still requires federal oversight. It’s infuriating.
Jon Greenbaum is legal director for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several groups that opposed the screening:
“We are pleased that the Department of Justice correctly found that Secretary Handel’s verification procedures are inaccurate and discriminatory. Preventing these procedures from going into effect will prevent Secretary Handel from keeping many thousands of eligible Georgia voters off the rolls,” he said.
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