October 18, 2005

Breaking News: Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Barring Georgia's Voter Identification Law

I have received only the fourth (and final) portion of the court's 123 page opinion and order. It is too large to post. In the part I have seen, the court holds that the Georgia plan constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax. The court declined to find that plaintiffs could prove a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but reserved judgment on the issue until the full trial.
From the court's summary:

    In sum, the Court finds that the four factors for granting a preliminary injunction weigh in favor of
    Plaintiffs . In particular, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of success on the
    merits of their claim that the Photo ID requirement unduly burdens the right to vote and a substantial likelihood of
    success on the merits of their claim that the Photo ID requirement constitutes a poll tax . The Court also finds that
    Plaintiffs and their constituents will suffer irreparable harm if the Court does not grant a preliminary injunction, and that the threatened harm to Plaintiffs outweighs the injury to Defendants and the State that will result from issuing a
    preliminary injunction . Finally, the Court finds that entering a preliminary injunction will serve the public interest . Consequently, the Court grants Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction.

    In reaching this conclusion, the Court observes that it has great respect for the Georgia legislature . The Court,
    however, simply has more respect for the Constitution. Because the Court finds that Plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of succeeding on their claims that the Photo ID requirement unduly burdens the right to vote and constitutes a poll tax, the Court must enter a preliminary injunction against the Photo ID requirement .10


Footnote 10 reads:
    The Court acknowledges that its conclusion differs from the decisions reached in League of Women Voters v . Blackwell, 340 F . Supp . 2d 823 (N .D . Ohio 2004), Bay County Democratic Party v . Land , 347 F . Supp . 2d 404 (E .D . Mich . 2004), and Colorado Common Cause v . Davidson, No . 04CV7709, 2004 WL 2360485 (D . Colo . Oct . 18, 2004) . All of those cases, however, involved identification requirements that allowed voters to show means of identification other than Photo IDs . Georgia's Photo ID requirement, however, applies to in-person voting and goes one step further than the laws challenged in Blackwell, Bay County Democratic Party, and Colorado Common
    Cause .
    For instance, Blackwell involved a challenge to an Ohio law implementing HAVA that required individuals who registered to vote by mail and who did not submit acceptable documentary proof of identity with their voter applications to provide "acceptable documentary proof" of their identities prior to voting . 340 F . Supp . 2d at 826 . Such proof could include "a current and valid photo identification," or '"[a] copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows [the voter's] name and address ." Id .
    Bay County Democratic Party, in turn, involved a challenge to directives issued to Michigan local elections
    officials concerning casting and tabulating provisional ballots, as well as a directive pertaining to proof of
    identity for first-time voters who registered by mail . 347 F. Supp . 2d at 410-11 . The directive concerning proof of
    identity for first-time in-person voters who registered bymail was revised to allow those voters to furnish the
    identification required by HAVA either at the polls or during a six-day period after election day . Id . at 434 . The HAVA requirements, however, allowed individuals who registered by mail to present a current, valid Photo ID or "a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter ." 42 U .S .C .A . ยง 15483 .
    Finally, Colorado Common Cause also involved identification requirements that permitted voters to show several forms of identification, including : (1) a valid Colorado driver's license ; (2) a valid ID card from the Colorado Department of Revenue ; (3) a valid United States passport ; (4) a valid government employee Photo ID ; (5) a
    valid pilot's license ; (6) a valid United States military Photo ID ; (7) a copy of a current utility bill, a bank
    statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the voter's name and address ; (8) a valid Medicaid or Medicare card ; (9) a certified copy of a birth certificate ; or (10) certified documentation of
    naturalization . 2004 WL 2360485, at *6 . The Colorado Common Cause court observed that the identification requirement was intended to reduce voter fraud, and concluded that the identification requirement was reasonably related to the interest proffered by the state and was not unduly burdensome . Id . at *10 .
    The identification requirements used by Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado, however, are of little relevance to the case now before the Court because those requirements are much less stringent than Georgia's Photo ID-only requirement . Each of the requirements challenged in Blackwell , Bay County Democratic Party, and Colorado Common Cause allowed voters to produce alternative forms of identification as well as Photo IDs . If Georgia's voter identification law permitted use of such alternative means of identification for purposes of inperson
    voting, Plaintiffs likely would not have filed this case . In sum, given the unique nature of Georgia's Photo ID
    requirement, the Court finds Blackwell , Ba y County Democratic Party, and Colorado Common Cause cases unpersuasive . The Court therefore declines to follow those cases .

I fully expect an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, where this ruling's fate is uncertain.

Posted by Rick Hasen at October 18, 2005 08:40 AM