Is Voter ID Requirement Discriminatory?
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
For more on where the law's opponents stand, we have Al Williams, a Georgia state representative and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Thanks for coming on.
State Representative AL WILLIAMS (Democrat, Georgia; Chairman, Legislative Black Caucus): Hello, and thank you for having me.
CHIDEYA: So why is your organization against the law?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: Well, primarily, the law was not needed. We went from one of the better states exercising voter rights to one of the most restrictive. We have not one instance in 12 years - and that was a study done by the previous Secretary of State Cathy Cox - not one instance of voter fraud at the polls. And the proponents of this bill - you can't have it both ways. You scream on one hand about not wanting government intrusion and then on the other hand, you step in and put a very restrictive law on the books.
CHIDEYA: So, though, you say there has been no voter fraud at the same time, is there really any evidence that this law could be restrictive or are you just going on faith?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: No. There's definite evidence. I don't know where some of the other facts are found, but I know that 36 percent of senior citizens over 75 years old don't have driver's license and many forms of this identification the secretary of state talks about.
Most of the fraud that occurs with voting is with absentee ballots, where only a signature is required. But none of these provisions will even addressed in Senate Bill 84. This is why many feel limiting voter fraud and securing our elections is not the motive with this SB 84 but instead who votes.
CHIDEYA: This is not a popularity contest. This is being decided in the courts. Nonetheless, what is the sense that you get from constituents in your state?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: A lot of disappointment, and, you know, we live in a state where when you have 40 percent voter turnout, everybody is cheering about the huge turnout. So we make it more restrictive. And it directly affects black people and older folk who traditionally vote Democrat. This was a Republican game to lower the turnout - case closed. And as far as the court's ruling, we've been ruled against before but we will not give up the fight.
CHIDEYA: Are you afraid that this will affect the local elections later this month?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: Have no doubt that it'll have some effect. We would have never opposed in the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus if we did not feel like it would directly affect every election. We should be working on improving voter turnout. Of course, the average report - there are a lot of Republican absentee voters. That's why it was never addressed.
CHIDEYA: Now, let me just ask you. How many African-Americans, or what percentage are there, in your caucus?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: We have 52 African-Americans in our caucus, and we are the largest legislative black caucus in America.
CHIDEYA: And do you think that you can really make a difference at this stage when this has already gone on to appeals?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: I think we can. We represent up to 2.5 million African-Americans plus poor and disenfranchised people throughout the state. We have to make a difference. There was a time when none of us served in legislature, and we had to fight. When one or two of us win the legislature, you find numbers mean nothing. Commitment means everything.
CHIDEYA: Do you want to continue to fight this in the courts? What is your plan from this point forward?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: I think that we will have to stay in the courts. We have to oppose it. When Plessy versus Ferguson passed was ruled to law, if we had given up the fight then, we'd still be snucking at the backdoor.
CHIDEYA: Final question. There is certainly a lot of talk about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Whether or not it has lived up to its promise in recent years, do you think that there's an atmosphere where, at the federal level, there is some effort to really deal with cases like this?
State Rep. WILLIAMS: The Civil Rights Division - the Justice Department, is not nearly as effective as it originally some years ago was, and that started under President Ronald Reagan. Civil Rights Division is, in a lot of instances, window dressing with no real commitment for the civil rights of those that they are supposed to be advocating for.
CHIDEYA: Well, Representative Williams, thank you so much for speaking with us.
State Rep. WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thank you very kindly.
CHIDEYA: We have been talking about the Georgia Voter ID Law and a new set of court decisions on that. Al Williams is a Georgia State representative and chairman of its Legislative Black Caucus. And he spoke with us from Cumulus Studios in Savannah.