Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Southern Politics, Updated

Ha, ha. Look at Fox "News" try to label South Carolina's disgraced Republican Governor Mark Sanford as a "Democrat." Nice try, Fox.

Southern politics are getting interesting, even aside from Sanford's Latin fling. Earlier this year, the Georgia legislature passed a bill requiring new registrants to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. However, Section 5 the Voting Rights Act requires Georgia and 15 other states to get pre-clearance for any changes to voting laws. As a result, Georgia cannot implement the new law until it's approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Georgia had been hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate Section 5, but on June 22 the Court refused to rule on the section's validity. Interestingly, I understand that Georgia's Attorney General was the only AG in the country to speak out against Section 5 during the case. But since Section 5 was not invalidated, the state must now submit Senate Bill 86 to the federal DOJ for approval.

The feds had previously told Georgia that an earlier procedure the state had used last fall to scan registered voters for citizenship requirements was not acceptable, so odds are that the latest scheme won't be approved either. However, under the federal Voting Rights Act, Georgia is free to bring a lawsuit to approve any election law change that the Justice Department won’t approve, and the June 22 Supreme Court decision implies that states can appeal to "opt out" of Section 5. Georgia is already thinking about doing just that.

According to her deputy, Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel is considering whether to sue the Justice Department. “We’re juggling a few balls right now, and one thing is abundantly clear. It’s Secretary Handel’s opinion that these verification programs are necessary and vital.”

Following her last scheme getting shot down, Handel issued a press release titled "Obama Justice Department Decision Will Allow Non-Citizens to Register to Vote in Georgia" The neo-cons in my office couldn't wait to show me the press release as "proof" that Obama wants noncitizens to vote.

In her statement, Handel said the “DOJ has thrown open the door for activist organizations such as ACORN to register non-citizens to vote in Georgia’s elections, and the state has no ability to verify an applicant’s citizenship status or whether the individual even exists."

"We have evidence that non-citizens have voted in past Georgia elections," she claimed, "and that more than 2,100 individuals have attempted to register, yet still have questions regarding their citizenship. "

In truth, though, the number of noncitizens attempting to vote in Georgia is so small as to be almost nonexistent. According to Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Handel’s office can document just one case in the entire state. The state is reportedly investigating more than 30 other possible instances of noncitizen voting in last fall’s election. However, Handel's office has refused to offer even the most general information about those cases. Given that no charges have been filed in the seven months since November, it’s hard to know how seriously to take them.

On the other hand, the evidence is overwhelming that the program set up by Handel - and shot down under Section 5 - has discouraged the casting and counting of hundreds and even thousands of legitimate votes. Under her system, names on state voting lists are compared against data compiled by the state Department of Driver Services, including citizenship status. But because DDS data are often outdated or incorrectly entered —- the drivers licensing system was not designed for determining citizenship —- thousands of legal voters have been tagged as potential noncitizens.

By last fall, the system had identified 4,700 possible noncitizens on state voting rolls. Those 4,700 registered voters were told that if they wanted to vote, they had to take the additional step of going to their county seat to prove their citizenship. Two thousand registered voters did make that extra effort; 2,700 did not. However, 600 of those 2,700 later showed up on Election Day and were told they could only cast a “challenge ballot.” For their vote to count, they were told to return with evidence of citizenship within 48 hours.

Of that 600, 370 took that extra step to make sure their ballot was counted, but 230 did not and their votes were discarded. Those 230 were almost certainly legitimate voters who just didn’t bother. It is a federal crime —- punishable by deportation, among other things —- to vote as a noncitizen. So it is hard to believe that 230 noncitizens would risk deportation by daring to try to vote even after they had been officially notified that their legal status was in question.

In addition, if the Secretary of State’s office truly believed that those 230 were illegal voters, it would be investigating and prosecuting them. The political bonanza of busting such a large-scale attempt at illegal voting would be enormous, and Karen Handel has been flirting with the idea of running for Governor. Tellingly, no attempt has been made to pursue these cases.

So, casting the state’s policy in the best possible light, Handel’s approach may have found as many as 30 illegal voters. But that is far outweighed by the invalidation of hundreds of legal votes cast by U.S. citizens, and by the fact that thousands of additional citizens were effectively discouraged from voting by additional obstacles put in their way.

There is much to dislike in Section 5. The 1965 rule doesn't consider the many changes that have occurred in the South since the civil rights movement, and the federal oversight of state registration procedures is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Reconstruction to Southerners. But ironically, it's actions like Handel's that keeps DOJ's eye on Georgia's registration procedures and makes retaining Section 5 inevitable.

Ain't karma something?

1 comment:

GreenSmile said...

"As Seen on TV" makes it true...even if Faux News puts it out.