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LDF Files Motion to Intervene in Georgia Lawsuit In Defense of Voting Rights Act

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8/03/10

(New York, NY) – Today, the District Court granted the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.’s (LDF) motion to intervene in a lawsuit initiated by the State of Georgia.  LDF seeks to defend and enforce Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act on behalf of organizations committed to the registration of African-American and other minority voters in Georgia, as well as African-American registered voters whose voting rights are directly impacted by this registration change and constitutional challenge.

The State of Georgia is a jurisdiction subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and must obtain preclearance, or pre-approval, of a voting change before it becomes law.  Here, Georgia is asking the court to pre-approve a voting change that would render qualified voters ineligible to register if the information they provide on their voter registration applications does not exactly match information maintained by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Eligible voters who are not perfectly matched must successfully navigate a series of steps before they can vote a regular ballot on Election Day.  If they cannot complete the process before Election Day, but still turn out to vote, they must appear at a hearing to make sure the ballot they cast on Election Day counts.  If the court will not allow Georgia to implement this voting change, the state asks the court to invalidate the federal preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, known as Section 5. 

Widely regarded as the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5 serves as our democracy’s discrimination checkpoint by requiring jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, like Georgia, to submit proposed voting changes for federal pre-approval.  The pre-approval process ensures that voting changes are free from discrimination. This protection effectively deters and blocks voting discrimination.

Since Georgia would like to implement its database comparison process in a way that would harm minority voters, it should not be approved.  

“This is the second case in which LDF has sought intervention to defend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act this year.  This case, like cases that originated in Alabama and North Carolina, seeks to strike down a core provision of our nation’s most important and effective federal voting rights law. Georgia’s recent and persistent history of voting discrimination shows just how important Section 5 is to the democratic process in covered jurisdictions,” said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel.

Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the State of Georgia’s earlier efforts to implement a similar database comparison process provides a recent and salient example of Section 5’s continuing importance.  Just two years ago, the Department of Justice reviewed a version of the proposed voting change and found that Hispanic, Asian, and African-American voters were most likely to be wrongfully identified by the database comparison process.  Only the protection of Section 5 prevented the implementation of the first iteration of this discriminatory voting change.

Georgia’s lawsuit was filed less than one year after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, an unsuccessful constitutional challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In that case, LDF represented African-American intervenors and successfully resisted a similar constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court.  “LDF’s commitment to and focus on the defense and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and Section 5 is unwavering,” said Payton.