Eyes on Snellville's prize

August 30, 2005

VOTERS IN A TOWN in Gwinnett County today will be the first to face the toughest, least-fair voter identification rules in the nation after the Justice Department cleared Georgia's new elections law Friday. Forty years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Snellville, Ga., has returned to a form of poll tax on its populace.

Only those voters in the special congressional election who can show government-issued photo identification will be allowed to cast ballots. Previously, voters could prove their identities by showing birth certificates, Social Security cards, ID cards with photos from private universities or workplaces, statements from utilities or banks or other such paperwork.

Who doesn't have a state-issued ID these days? Mostly elderly folks, people who don't drive, poor people - and those who can't make it to one of the only 56 places to obtain such IDs in the state (there is no such place in the entire city of Atlanta, though there's one in Snellville). But the now-discredited forms of identification are the very ones that Georgians use to obtain a state ID card in the first place, along with a 10-dollar bill and the cost of a trip to the motor vehicles office. So the real new requirement is proof of payment or mobility.

That's wrong. Voting is a constitutional right, not a privilege of people with the means to pay for it.

The supposed purpose of the ID requirement is to prevent fraud at the polling place. But very little voter fraud occurs at the polling place: The vast majority occurs in the registration process - and via mailed-in absentee ballots, which still require no proof of identification.

Gwinnett County's elections officials are scrambling to conform to the new law. Forgive them for their surprise: The Feds rejected less-restrictive voting identification rules proposed by Louisiana's legislature in 1994 and 1995.

We expect this return to discriminatory politics will be overturned in the courts. Sadly, it can't come soon enough for Snellville.

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