Humbug Square - Perdue pooh-poohs poll purge

ACLU, other groups prepared to sue over voter ID law

I ran into Gov. Sonny Perdue twice last week. First, I saw him at Son's Place across from the Inman Park MARTA Station. Son's Place is where Southerners go for fried chicken. Politicians especially seem drawn there. I suppose they need the soul food.

I've seen Mayor Shirley Franklin there, and Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. I shook hands with the governor after he walked in. He looked good. His diet has been working a hell of a lot better than mine, although neither one of us had any business eating the fried food at Son's Place and neither one of us could be kept away by a whip and a guard dog.

A couple of days later, I saw the governor at a news conference at the driver's license office in Sandy Springs, where he was announcing all the changes that took effect July 1 in the new Department of Driver Services. The changes are designed to help people get their driver's licenses without those infuriating four-hour waits.

But I asked him a question that had nothing to do with convenience. The department is the agency that will administer the Georgia ID card. It's a form of identification that will be needed by people who don't drive but will have to show a photo ID if they want to vote. Georgia never before demanded a photo ID to vote and some old folks are going to have a hard time adjusting.

The problem is that there are 159 counties in Georgia and only 56 driver's license offices. Do the math. You've got an estimated 150,000 people out there who voted two years ago but had no license or other photo ID. A hell of lot of them won't be able to get rides for the 30-mile trip to a license office two counties over. Rural Georgia doesn't have public transportation.

The bottom line: A lot of these people won't be able to vote. And a lot of them happen to be Democrats.

So I asked the governor, whose Republican Party rammed through the bill that makes Georgia the nation's single most restrictive state for voting, whether the GOP had intended to disenfranchise older Georgia voters in rural areas with the new ID law.

"That's ludicrous," he snapped. "Next question."

But it's not ludicrous. The law Perdue signed in April is now being reviewed by the Justice Department in Washington under the provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A ruling is due no later than Aug. 10. Interested parties such as Secretary of State Cathy Cox, the state Democratic Party and the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials are firing off letters and resolutions urging the feds to object to the new law because it violates various constitutional provisions designed to protect minority voting rights.Most observers expect George Bush's Justice Department to let the law slide through the pre-clearance process with a sly wink. In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause and other groups are prepared to file a lawsuit.

The voter ID law was designed "to prevent something that didn't happen," says Neil Bradley, associate director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. Georgia, he says, has no history of voters impersonating other people. It used to happen in Chicago, but it hasn't been happening in Georgia. There was no problem to fix.

But Dan McLagan, Perdue's press secretary, said last week that Georgians want to know that the people casting votes are who they say are - and photo IDs are the way to do it.

To get a Georgia ID card, would-be voters who don't have driver's licenses will have to present two pieces of identification at the license office. But, Bradley points out, these people can't take the same two pieces of identification to a poll and vote. They have to take the time and trouble to travel to get a photo ID. It's an extra step in voting that was never there before.

"Clearly, it has an impact on racial minorities and old folks and the poor," Bradley says. "Anything you add to the burden of what you have to do on Election Day does depress the voter turnout."

He also notes that no ID is required to get an absentee ballot. That's an area that's ripe for fraud, but the General Assembly made it easier - you don't have to have an excuse to vote absentee anymore. Hmm, I wonder if that's because wealthy, white Republicans tend to use absentee ballots more often than poor people.

"To vote absentee without a picture ID is just illogical," Bradley says. "If they're worried about voter fraud, they're not enacting legislation that's consistent."

City folks tend to ignore some of the Third World realities of rural Georgia, even though we still like to eat the food our country relatives taught us to love.The state has narrowed the number of acceptable pieces of identification from 17 to six. One of those six is a birth certificate. But many elderly people in the most remote parts of the state were born at home. And they don't have birth certificates.

The voter ID law isn't the only step the state is taking that will keep people away from the polls. At the same time that Georgia has become the most restrictive state in America for voter identification, the former Department of Motor Vehicle Safety has been purging its driver's license list by combing through its database and checking Social Security numbers. The department has been mailing 1,000 letters a week that give people 120 days to present a verifiable Social Security number or risk cancelation of their driver's license or Georgia ID. The best known case was Mayor Franklin. Records associated her Social Security number with her maiden name and her previous married name.

In southwest Georgia, Betty Hendon Baugh, 75, of Andersonville expects to lose her driver's license this week. She's had it more than 40 years and has never gotten a ticket. But her Social Security number was challenged because of questions about her date of birth. She can't prove the date because she was born at home and has no birth certificate. She's appealed to a legislator for help but can't drive - or vote - until it's resolved.

"My driver's license was the only ID with a picture on it I had," says

Baugh, who's a regular poll worker for elections in Sumter County. "I might not be able to vote. You have to have a picture."

And elderly rural people won't be the only ones affected by the law. It also hits some young urban people. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, one of the fiercest opponents of Georgia's voter purge, notes that students at private colleges such as Morehouse and Spelman can't use their student IDs to vote, while public university student IDs are valid identification for voting.

"This is a terrible step backwards for the state of Georgia," Brooks says.

Gov. Perdue says the new downtown Atlanta license center at Fulton Street and Capitol Avenue, reported here last week, should be open in three to six months. You can contact Senior Editor Doug Monroe at doug.monroe@creativeloafing.com.??