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Rep. John Lewis and Senators Chris Dodd and Barack Obama Want U.S. Investigation of Photo ID Letters

October 20, 2006
Press Release

Today Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barack Obama (D-IL) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez requesting federal investigation of an action taken by the Georgia State Board of Elections. The elections board sent out over 200,000 letters informing voters in mainly Democratic districts that they may not have the proper government-issued photo identification required to vote in the November 7th election. That letter would have been appropriate had a Superior Court judge in Fulton County not ruled last month that the Georgia photo-ID law violated the state constitution.

A prominent GOP member of the elections board contended the letters were slated for delivery before the judge's ruling, but evidence released from the secretary of state's office reveals the letters were sent to the post office after the judge issued his decision. Former Gov. Roy Barnes has filed a lawsuit against the state over the matter, and Rep. Lewis joined Senators Dodd and Obama requesting a federal investigation of the mailing to determine whether voting rights laws were broken.

"The right to vote is precious, almost sacred," said Rep. Lewis. "The integrity of American elections is the foundation of our democracy. If we can defend democracy with American lives in Iraq, we must use the full resources of the federal government to defend it here at home. It is important that the U.S. attorney general investigate this matter to determine the motive and the intent of this mailing. We must let the federal government and the courts decide whether voter suppression was the goal of this action."

"This seems like nothing more than a cynical attempt to influence elections by discouraging people to vote," Sen. Obama said. "It's crucial that we vigorously defend American citizens' right to vote, and this matter should be thoroughly investigated as soon as possible."

"This isn't about what party you belong to or what candidate you favor, it is about being an American and exercising your right to vote," said Sen. Dodd. "It is unconscionable and illegal to discourage citizens in any way from casting their ballots, and the recent mailing from the Georgia Board of Elections is doing just that. Let's set the record straight here and hope for high voter turnout in Georgia and across the nation."

The photo-ID law has been debated in Georgia for the last two years. Two such laws were passed by the Georgia state legislature. Both were challenged in court, one was enjoined by a U.S. District Court judge and the other by a Superior Court judge, and both were ruled illegal or unconstitutional. Currently, 12 forms of ID can be used to identify a Georgia voter at the polls, ID that is readily accessible to any citizen.

The requirement of a government-issued photo ID mandates rural, elderly, disabled and poor voters to visit one of a few government offices throughout the state, which can be miles away from their homes, in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Judges have ruled the requirement is too burdensome to mandate all-citizen compliance. Proponents of the law have suggested it will help protect against voter fraud, but the incidence of that kind of voter fraud in Georgia is nearly insignificant.

Obama and Dodd introduced a resolution in the Senate in September expressing the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject photo ID legislation. Lewis is the House sponsor of the bill. Sen. Dodd is also the author of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Lewis is a long-time voting rights activist, arrested over 40 times in the struggle for equal access to the ballot box for all Americans, and a passionate defender of the Voting Rights Act during its recent reauthorization by Congress this year.