June 18, 2013

Ruling on voter citizenship proof ensnares Georgia law

By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia officials said they plan to review a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down an Arizona voter-registration law requiring proof of citizenship to determine what effect it may have on a similar state law.

In its ruling, Supreme Court justices said the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 allows voters to use a federal registration form that does not require proof of citizenship, only signing an oath that they are citizens.

Supreme Court justices left open the possibility that states could still petition the federal government for permission to ask for proof, noting that the Election Assistance Commission had recently approved a request from Louisiana to require applicants who lack a driver’s license, ID card or Social Security number to attach additional documents.

Georgia’s law, passed by lawmakers in 2009, has been on hold while the state waits for the federal government to grant it access to an identification database. The law would require those registering to vote to prove citizenship with a state driver’s license, birth certificate or other approved document.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp said he was “very disappointed” with Monday’s ruling and pledged to work with Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens and the General Assembly on next steps.

“Rather than causing an undue burden, this requirement ensures the integrity of our voting process,” Kemp said in a statement. “Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify.’ This is exactly what Georgia’s voter registration laws provide for.”

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Olens, said the attorney general’s office was disappointed with the high court’s conclusion and was in the process of reviewing the ruling.

In addition to Georgia, three other states — Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee — have laws similar to Arizona.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented individuals and organizations affected by the law, said in a statement that an estimated 13 million people nationwide lack proof of citizenship and that 90 percent of voter registration applications that were denied in Arizona were from people born in the U.S.

“This decision reaffirms the principle that states may not undermine this critical law’s effectiveness by adding burdens not required under federal law,” Laughlin McDonald, special counsel and director emeritus of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “In doing so, the court has taken a vital step in ensuring the ballot remains free, fair, and accessible for all citizens.”

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