Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Georgia Voter ID Act

A few days ago, the Northern District of Georgia granted a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of Georgia's new voter ID act. I, being the Good Librarian that I am, sent our professors a link to the decision. Which, by the way, is 123 pages long.

Not long thereafter (note my use of "thereafter," proving that I really did go to law school), I received emails from two of our professors, within a few minutes of each other. One, from a staunch conservative, told me what a weird result the decision was ("hasn't the court ever heard of "vote early, vote often?"). The other, from someone far more left, noted that it was a bold, and correct, decision.

So which is it? Bold, or weird?

Well, if you listen to the Right, you won't think it's bold or weird, because Judge Murphy has (gasp!!) donated money to Therefore, the soundbite goes, he's just pushing along his political agenda. (Why is it that conservatives rule according to their consciences, but liberals are just legislating from the bench?)

It's true that the decision isn't all that bold or weird. But it is correct.

The voter ID act sounds sort of logical on its face, considering that it's purported purpose is to prevent voter fraud. What's so wrong with making people show a photo ID when they vote? Well, nothing, except maybe the following:
  • Georgia's Secretary of State Cathy Cox urged against passage of the bill, saying that she had never seen a case of voter fraud that had arisen from in-person voting at the polls.
  • When it passed the voter ID act, the Georgia legislature also passed a law making it easier to vote by mail, even though Cox also noted that there had been numerous cases of fraud reported with respect to absentee voting.
So what was really going on in the Georgia legislature? Well, that's a good question.

For all you legal eagles out there, here's a very quick run-down of the decision: Judge Murphy noted that the right to vote is fundamental, and he therefore analyzed it under two tests: strict scrutiny, and the test applied by the Supreme Court in Burdick v. Takushi. He found that under either analysis, the law probably violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Furthermore, he found that the ID requirement constitutes an impermissible poll tax.

Yes, I realize there's more: the four factors for granting a preliminary injunction, the issues that the court declined to rule on this early in the game, and lots of other stuff. But the decision is 123 pages long. Frankly, I don't think you really want me to summarize the whole thing here, although believe it or not, I have read it.

Some interesting points along the way:
  • Defendants were only able to cite to voter fraud with respect to voter registration -- not in-person voting -- and yet under the new law, you still don't need a photo ID to register to vote.
  • There is a state-run bus that will go around and give people state IDs and will even do it for free if if you're indigent. However, one bus has to serve 159 counties, and it's not wheelchair accessible (and the photo equipment can't be moved outside the bus).
  • There are people who don't have the money for the ID but aren't considered indigent and so can't get it for free.
The bottom line is that the law does nothing to stop voter fraud in the places it actually takes place: voter registration and absentee voting. However, it does make it tougher for the poor, elderly, and disabled to vote. Could it be that's what the Georgia legislature was really aiming for?

Uhh, can you say pretense?

1 comment:

  1. Bernice Stelle Autumn Drake4:10 AM

    Read by Bea.