Georgia’s Voter Registration Procedures Discriminate And Should Be Permanently Blocked, Civil Rights Coalition Argues

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Stacie B. Royster, Lawyers’ Committee, (202) 662-8317; sroyster@lawyerscommittee.org
Nina Perales, MALDEF, (210) 224-5476

Georgia’s Voter Registration Procedures Discriminate And Should Be Permanently Blocked, Civil Rights Coalition Argues

ATLANTA - A coalition of civil rights groups argued before a federal court in
Atlanta today that Georgia’s citizenship voter-verification procedures
discriminate against minorities and should be permanently blocked
absent federal preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Under the procedures, U.S. citizens from minority communities were
incorrectly flagged as non-citizens and prevented from registering to
vote.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with a
history of discrimination in voting to obtain federal approval before
implementing any changes in their practices or procedures affecting
voting.

The civil rights coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union,
the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee),
the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Georgia
attorney Brian Spears and the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
The coalition represents Cherokee County resident Jose Morales, the
Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Georgia Association of
Latino Elected Officials and the Center for Pan Asian Community
Services.

“There is no doubt that racial and language minorities in Georgia would
be subject to discrimination in voting if these voter-verification
procedures were allowed to be implemented again,” said Laughlin
McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “We have already
seen that during the short time they were in effect, U.S. citizens were
unlawfully prevented from registering.”

The contested voter-registration procedures flag certain
voter-registration applicants and some types of already-registered
voters as non-citizens based on records from the Georgia Department of
Driver Services (DDS). The records, however, contain out-of-date
citizenship information because DDS fails to update them to reflect the
thousands of Georgia residents who become U.S. citizens each year. The
state’s own data has shown that the procedures have incorrectly flagged
thousands of Georgia citizens who submitted voter-registration
applications as non-citizens.

“These flawed procedures would burden or deny the right to vote to many
thousands of eligible Georgia voters,” said Robert A. Kengle, an
attorney with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee, who
argued the case today. “These procedures should be permanently blocked.”

The coalition filed a lawsuit challenging the voting procedures in
October 2008 after a number of U.S. citizens had been incorrectly
flagged as non-citizens. Those who were flagged were denied the right
to vote unless they presented written evidence of citizenship.

A federal court in Atlanta issued a preliminary block on the procedures
on October 27, 2008, because the Georgia Secretary of State implemented
the measures without obtaining Section 5 preclearance.

In May 2009, after Georgia finally submitted the procedures for Section
5 review, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that the state
failed to prove that they did not have a discriminatory effect on
minority voters and refused to preclear them.

“Georgia’s discriminatory voter-identification measures primarily
affect racial minorities,” said Nina Perales, an attorney with MALDEF.
“The state’s attempt to disenfranchise minority U.S. citizens didn’t
make it past the Department of Justice and it won’t hold up in court
either.”

Despite DOJ’s findings, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has
announced that he intends to file a lawsuit in Washington, D.C. seeking
court preclearance of the flawed voter-registration practices.

“The question before the court here in Georgia today is simply whether
these procedures should be permanently enjoined,” said Kengle. “But
Georgia has failed repeatedly to prove to the Department of Justice
that these procedures were non-discriminatory, and we are confident
that the federal court in the District of Columbia would find them
discriminatory as well.”

Attorneys on the case, Morales et al. v. Kemp et al., include McDonald
and Meredith Bell-Platts of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Kengle, Jon
Greenbaum and Mark A. Posner of the Lawyers’ Committee, Perales of
MALDEF, Brian Spears of the Law Office of Brian Spears and Jason S.
Pielemeier and Young K. Lee of Debevoise & Plimpton.

The coalition’s supplemental brief for the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division can be found online at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/morales-v-kemp-supplemental-brief

The coalition’s complaint can be found online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/access/39714lgl20090310.html

Civil Rights Division Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King’s letter blocking the procedures can be found online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/access/39715res20090529.html

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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