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Perdue gives voter ID opponents the brush-off

When Gov. Sonny Perdue was preparing to sign House Bill 244, the League of Women Voters of Georgia was among the many groups that urged him to veto the bill, which requires that voters carry one of six forms of picture ID to the polls to be allowed to vote.

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A few months later, the governor sent the League a short letter explaining why he'd chosen to sign the legislation over the objections of civil rights leaders, voting rights groups and the NAACP. Those groups had claimed the ID requirement would discourage certain voters and pointed out that there was zero evidence of Georgia voters misrepresenting themselves, rendering the law unnecessary.

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But Perdue decided to sign HB 244, he wrote to the League, "after careful consideration of the merits of the bill and weighing the comments of concerned Georgians who have contacted my office."

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Not convinced that a tsunami of public support persuaded Perdue to sign HB 244, the League filed requests under the state Open Records Act to see the governor's phone and e-mail records.

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Turns out that, in the three weeks before the governor signed the controversial bill, his office received 331 calls asking him to veto it — and only 13 calls in its favor.

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The e-mail tally was almost as overwhelming: 81 e-mails sought a veto of HB 244 vs. 18 in support of it. And those figures don't include the more than 350 signatures submitted in the form of a petition against the legislation.

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One correspondent sarcastically suggested that if Perdue wanted to crack down on voter fraud — the purported intent of HB 244 — he instead should adopt the "purple finger" system used in the recent Iraqi elections: "This will guarantee that the poor, blacks, the aged and infirm will not race from polling booth to polling booth."

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Other writers compared the photo ID requirement to the old "poll tax" used under Jim Crow to keep blacks from voting. They said the bill, which reduces the number of acceptable forms of ID at the polls from 17 to six, would result in widespread disenfranchisement among poor, elderly and African-American voters who'd have trouble getting IDs — especially since there are only 56 driver's license offices among 159 Georgia counties, and none in the city of Atlanta.

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Even among the few who didn't call for the bill's veto, two writers asked Perdue to make it easier to obtain state-issued IDs, with one writer suggesting that the effort would "help counter the argument that this was an effort to disenfranchise voters."

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So, if public sentiment in calls and e-mails was running against HB 244 to the tune of 93 percent, what, exactly, was Perdue weighing when he was considering the "comments of concerned Georgians" who had contacted his office?

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"His definition of 'concerned Georgians' is a very narrow constituency," says Jennifer Owen, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.

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The governor's apparent disinterest in the hundreds of calls to veto HB 244 only serves to "underscore the lack of hard evidence to support the claim that it will reduce voter fraud," Owen adds.

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However, Shane Hix, spokesman for the governor's office, told CL that Perdue weighed comments carefully before making his decision.

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Critics of the bill, which received pre-approval by the U.S. Department of Justice on Aug. 26, argue that it actually increases the chance of voter fraud by lowering restrictions for casting absentee ballots. Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox also has said that no cases of fraud by voters posing as someone else have been reported during her tenure.

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The League, along with the ACLU and AARP, plans to file a lawsuit to block HB 244 in federal court by week's end. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs is Emmet Bondurant, often cited as one of the nation's top trial lawyers, who in 1960 won a suit against the state that resulted in the redrawing of Georgia's congressional districts.



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