Friday, October 16, 2009

Department of Justice Decision on Voter Verification Process Directly Conflicts with Federal Law, Again

Secretary of State Handel Promises to Continue Fight

Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel today announced that the State of Georgia’s request to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to pre-clear its voter verification process has been denied for a second time, even though the process in question is required by federal law under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

“For the second time in six months, DOJ has effectively directed the State of Georgia not to comply with or enforce federal law. For nearly a year, our office and the Office of the Attorney General have worked in good faith with the Department of Justice to address their questions and issues. Throughout this entire process, DOJ did not raise a single question, comment or concern with our reconsideration submission until Tuesday,” Handel said.

Handel added, “The voter verification system is an essential tool to prevent election and voter fraud. Going forward, we will review all options available to us to protect this system and ensure the integrity of Georgia’s voter rolls. I will discuss these options with Governor Perdue, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State’s legal counsel to determine the best course of action for the State of Georgia and our elections process.”

“I am left to draw one conclusion. The Department of Justice has put politics ahead of common sense by placing the interests and support of organizations like MALDEF and the ACLU ahead of our interest in protecting the integrity of our elections,” Handel said.

The DOJ originally denied preclearance of Georgia’s voter verification process on May 29, 2009. On July 22, 2009, officials with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s office met with senior attorneys in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to address concerns, answer questions, and discuss the State’s pending reconsideration submission. The request for reconsideration was submitted to DOJ several weeks later. Until Monday, there was no indication that there were additional questions, comments, concerns or objections to the State’s submission.


Georgia implemented the voter verification process in April 2007 at the direction of DOJ in order to comply with HAVA requirements. The voter verification process checks five criteria provided by first time applicants by mail who do not provide identification with the application with information in the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) database or the Social Security Administration database. These criteria include first name, last name, date of birth, and driver’s license number or last four digits of the applicant’s Social Security number. Additionally, if the applicant previously reported to DDS that he or she is not a U.S. citizen, that person is asked by their county registrar to provide proof of citizenship.

In 2008, two federal courts acknowledged the State’s responsibility to verify voter application information as required by HAVA, and ordered the State to continue its voter verification procedures through the General Election. In his October 16, 2008 order, U.S. District Court Judge Jack Camp stated:

“HAVA requires that Defendant Handel match information in the statewide voter registration database with information from the Georgia DDS and the SSA databases ‘to the extent necessary to enable each such official to verify the accuracy of the information provided on the applications for voter registration.’”

As required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1964, the State of Georgia must seek permission (“preclearance”) from DOJ prior to making any change in election law or procedure. Alternatively, the State can also request preclearance for its voter verification process by filing suit in the Federal District Court of Washington, D.C.

With the voter verification process in place before DOJ’s objection the 2008 General Election was the largest in Georgia’s history and featured record turnout among minority and elderly voters. Turnout among Hispanic and African-American voters increased 140 percent and 42 percent, respectively, over the 2004 General Election.

Karen Handel was sworn in as Secretary of State in January 2007. The Secretary of State's office offers important services to our citizens and our business community. Among the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, the Secretary of State is charged with conducting efficient and secure elections, the registration of corporations, and the regulation of securities and professional license holders. The office also oversees the Georgia Archives and the Capitol Museum.
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