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Feds OK state voter check system

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POSTED: August 24, 2010 9:59 a.m.
ATLANTA - The Justice Department has given Georgia approval to again verify voters' identity and citizenship, Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced on Monday.

Federal officials have precleared a modified new program designed to confirm that prospective voters are U.S. citizens. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division had repeatedly rejected similar versions of the Georgia program.

It has been mired in legal challenges since 2008, which Republican supporters argue has opened the state's elections up to possible fraud.

Kemp, a Republican, had filed a lawsuit two months ago to push the voting check system through, arguing the Justice Department was "playing politics" by refusing to approve the initiative.

On Monday, Kemp suggested that lawsuit had forced the Justice Department's hand.

"When we filed the lawsuit, I was criticized by some because they believed it would be too time-consuming and expensive," Kemp said.

"After the litigation was filed, it took less than two months for the DOJ to consent to preclearance of the verification process."

Both sides have now filed a joint request to dismiss the lawsuit.

In their legal filing, Justice Department officials made clear that the state had modified its plan so that it finally passed muster with the federal Voting Rights Act.

Officials with the Justice Department had no additional comment.

A spokesman for Kemp said Monday that the changes impact the pool of would-be voters the checks apply to. The original proposal included first-time voter registration applicants who send in their forms by mail. It also applied to already-registered voters who seek to change a key piece of identifying information, like a name, Matt Carrothers said.

The modified plan that won DOJ approval includes all first-time voter registration applicants, including those seeking to register in person. It eliminates those who've already registered but are seeking to make changes, Carrothers said.

The state checks new voters against information in databases held by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration.

Justice Department lawyers had earlier argued the program was flawed and subjected minority voters to heightened scrutiny.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, Georgia and other states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must preclear any changes to election rules with the Justice Department or through the federal courts.

The program was implemented in 2007 and came under scrutiny in the 2008 election after it raised questions about the citizenship of some 4,500 would-be voters.

After a challenge was filed by voting rights groups in the weeks leading up to the 2008 elections, a federal three-judge panel said the state must seek Justice Department preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division rejected the checks in May and October of last year.


 

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