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OPINION - NYT on DOJ and Voting in GA
Friday, 12 June 2009

June 12--  The following editorial from the New York Times regards the recent U.S. Department of Justice decision preventing Georgia from verifying citizenship of potential voters.

 

Why the Voting Rights Act Matters

Using its authority under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has overturned two deeply flawed and discriminatory Georgia voting procedures. The decisions — invalidating badly designed systems for checking prospective voters’ personal information and citizenship — will prevent many eligible voters from being denied the right to cast a ballot.

They are a reminder, as the Supreme Court deliberates over a challenge to the Voting Rights Act, of why this landmark law is still very much needed. They are also a welcome change in direction for the Justice Department, which under the Bush administration routinely signed off on new state voting rules that made it harder for minorities to register and cast ballots.
 
Before the 2008 presidential election, voting rights advocates challenged two new systems of voter verification adopted in Georgia. One, known as “no match, no vote,” flagged new registrants whose basic information — name, date of birth, driver’s license number and last four digits of the Social Security number — did not match government databases. The other checked citizenship status through a similar matching process.
 
The trouble is, both systems were riddled with errors. When the Justice Department investigated the “no match, no vote” results, it found that thousands of eligible Georgia voters were wrongly flagged, often because of small glitches, like transposed digits in a driver’s license number. In the case of the citizenship check, over half of the roughly 7,000 people flagged as potential noncitizens actually were citizens.
 
The impact of Georgia’s faulty systems hit minority voters particularly hard. The majority of individuals flagged under “no match, no vote” were African-American. The citizenship match disproportionately affected black, Hispanic and Asian voters. Individuals who were flagged had to follow onerous procedures to prove their eligibility before they would be allowed to vote.
 
Georgia has every right to verify the identity and citizenship of people on its rolls. But it must use well-designed, accurate and nondiscriminatory methods.
 
Using its authority under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has overturned two deeply flawed and discriminatory Georgia voting procedures. The decisions — invalidating badly designed systems for checking prospective voters’ personal information and citizenship — will prevent many eligible voters from being denied the right to cast a ballot.
 
The Department of Justice was able to block Georgia’s rules because of its authority under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires certain jurisdictions, including Georgia, to “pre-clear” changes in voting rules so the Justice Department can determine that they will not disproportionately harm minority voters.
 
The Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on a challenge to the Voting Rights Act. There is a real danger that it could strike down Section 5. That would be a radical reversal for the court, which has repeatedly upheld the act since its passage in 1965. It would cripple the power of Congress and the Justice Department to protect voters from discriminatory state rules.
 
Foes of the Voting Rights Act argue that it is a relic of a previous era. The Justice Department’s welcome decision to block the Georgia voting procedures shows that the act continues to provide much-needed protection for minority voters.



 

 
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