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Georgia gets a green light on voter law

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2010

Georgia often gets a black eye from various unflattering rankings: Low SAT scores and high school graduation rates, high percentages of poverty and rates of incarceration.

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But thanks to capitulation - finally - from the federal overlords at the U.S. Justice Department, Georgia has at least one ranking it can be proud of: The state has one of the tougher voter identification systems in the nation.

Just in time for November's general election - for which advance and absentee voting begins in just two weeks - election officials in Columbia County and the rest of the state will be able to check the citizenship status of those registering to vote for the first time.

The law isn't complicated, and there's no "ethnic profiling" involved. It simply requires that elections officials make sure the person signing up to vote is actually eligible to vote in the first place.

Disappointingly, it was the Bush Justice Department that originally challenged Georgia's law. Since then it's taken more than two years for the agency to finally get out of the way.

Critics predictably claim the law will hinder minorities from voting. For example, Jerry Gonzales, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, was quoted as saying that many legal immigrants might not register because they don't want to go to the trouble of proving their citizenship, or out of fear that it would draw attention to friends and family members who aren't in the country legally.

Seriously? Gonzales would better serve the people he claims to represent by helping to reassure them that they have nothing to worry about if they are here legally. Remember: The law requires every newly registering voter to be checked, not just ethnic minorities.

As for those who aren't here legally, surely no one is shedding a tear over the prospect that the new law might prevent them from illegally registering to vote.

Realistically, even without the law, there is virtually no evidence that illegals have attempted to vote in any significant numbers. One researcher in a 2007 study, for example, could not document a single case in which an illegal alien had tried to vote.

But waiting until specific cases are documented is the equivalent of holding off on installing a traffic light at a dangerous intersection until the body count from crash fatalities is high enough. It's far better to handle such possibilities proactively than to invite knee-jerk reactions to crises after they occur.

The only other state that has such a voting law is Arizona, which also led the nation with legislation allowing local law enforcement officers to check the citizenship status of anyone already being questioned in the course of police duties.

Georgia would do well to follow Arizona's lead in that regard, too. Law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about from such laws - and no reasonable people should worry about inconveniencing anyone who broke the law to get here.



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