At the end of a losing battle during the past legislative session, Georgia state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan burst into the civil rights anthem “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” to protest the passage of a law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
Morgan said she will not be moved in her fight to get the law repealed in the next session starting Jan. 9.
“It’s whatever it takes,” Morgan said. “I’m putting on the armor. Nothing they can do will fix the bill. It’s a bad law and it needs to be repealed. We’re not going backwards.”
Thomas and other black lawmakers know they are in for a battle as Republicans stand determined to defend the law, which requires voters who do not have a driver’s license to buy a state-issued ID card for as much as $35 — a fee critics say hurts the poor, the elderly and minorities.
The law eliminates the use of some other forms of identification to vote, including Social Security cards, birth certificates and utility bills. Supporters, including Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, argued that the measure would help prevent fraud.
In October, a federal judge blocked Georgia from enforcing the law, saying the measure amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax because the state is not doing enough to make ID cards available to those who cannot afford them.
Republicans propose changes
Republican Sen. Cecil Staton, the legislation’s chief Senate sponsor, is proposing to amend the law during the upcoming session. He said he is willing, among other things, to make the state-issued IDs free for the asking.
“I don’t want there to be a hardship any more than necessary for voters, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that when you come in to vote, you help us see that you are who you say you are,” Staton said. He added: “Most Georgians think this is common sense, including African-Americans.”
However, black legislators are promising to fight any plan that does not repeal the law, and they are getting support from the American Association of Retired Persons, the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP.
“This is a fight that has to be fought. A whole lot of folks have expended a lot of blood, sweat and tears to protect voting rights. It’s a fundamental issue,” said Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat.
Racial tensions raised
The measure heightened racial tensions in the Legislature last spring. Many black lawmakers were distressed when their stories of black people being deprived of the right to vote in the South during the Jim Crow era fell on deaf ears, and most of them walked out of the Capitol when the bill passed in March.
The widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, called on the governor to veto the measure.
Democrats argued that there has been little voter fraud in Georgia and that the legislation was a ploy by the GOP to suppress voting among minorities and the poor.
The law did not go into effect until August, when it was approved by the Justice Department. Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia and other states with a history of denying black citizens the vote must get the department’s permission to change their voting laws.
In November, a Justice Department memo was leaked that revealed that a team of federal lawyers and analysts initially opposed the Georgia law before it won the department’s approval.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, voters in 20 other states are asked to show identification before voting. In five states — Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota — voters must show photo ID; the 15 other states accept other forms of identification. Indiana will require photo identification beginning Jan. 1.