Sponsor of disputed Georgia legislation told feds that blacks in her district only vote if they are paid to do so.
By BOB KEMPER in Washington, SONJI JACOBS in Atlanta
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/18/05
The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter identification law told the Justice Department that if black people in her district "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls," and that if fewer blacks vote as a result of the new law, it is only because it would end such voting fraud.
The newly released Justice Department memo quoting state Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta) was prepared by department lawyers as the federal government considered whether to approve the new law. It also says that despite Republican assurances the law would not disenfranchise elderly, poor and black voters, Susan Laccetti Meyers, the staff adviser for the Georgia House of Representatives, told the Justice Department "the Legislature did not conduct any statistical analysis of the effect of the photo ID requirement on minority voters."
State Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta) says the memo 'sounds pretty harsh' but 'was more accurate than not.'
It cites analyses showing that, in fact, the effects of the law — which will require Georgians seeking to vote to present a driver's license or an identification card for which they must pay — could fall disproportionately on blacks. It concludes that the state had failed to show the law would not weaken minority voting strength, and recommends that the attorney general's office formally object to it.
However, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in August approved the law. Last month, a judge suspended the photo ID requirement after finding the law imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and will not effectively combat voter fraud. A lawsuit in the case continues.
A Justice Department spokesman, Eric Holland, on Thursday said the memo was only "a draft that did not include data and analysis from other voting section career attorneys," and that Georgia's law was approved because the department determined that it would not adversely affect minorities. The draft, he said, "was subsequently corrected by the state, and also contains a number of factual errors," though those corrections did not include the statements made by Burmeister and Meyers.
Georgia Democrats reacted angrily to the memo and to reports that the department had approved the voter ID law even though staff attorneys recommended against it. They said the law is the most blatant evidence that Georgia's election laws should remain under federal scrutiny, as required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, despite attempts by Georgia Republicans to free the state from federal oversight.
U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, said he would push the House committee on government oversight to call a hearing into the Justice Department's approval of the law, though even Democrats said it was unlikely that a Republican-controlled committee would investigate the Republican-run department.
"We cannot allow these slaps to go unanswered. We've got to slap back," Scott said at a Capitol Hill news conference held by five of Georgia's six Democratic congressmen. "We are at war."
State Rep. Stan Watson (D-Decatur), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said reports that the politically appointed leadership of the Justice Department overruled its staff and approved the voter ID law "bears out that the law would hamper blacks, other people of color and the elderly in voting."
According to the memo, Burmeister told the Justice Department that she was "aware of vote-buying in certain precincts" and detailed one episode in which she said former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre offered to put her name on a card and then round up black voters and "pay them to vote for the candidates on the card in exchange for $2,000." McIntyre, who died last year, was convicted in 1984 in connection with extortion.
The memo, leaked to The Washington Post, went on to state: "Rep. Burmeister said that if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said that when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."
Burmeister said Thursday that the memo's record of what she said "was more accurate than not," but added: "That sounds pretty harsh. I don't remember saying those exact words."
"There is other documentation available that proves there is significant cause for voter fraud in Georgia," she said. "We've had counties with dead people voting. We have a history in Georgia that shows there is fraud going on. This [memo] was a letter that was dropped by bureaucrats who want to put a chink in it."
Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and veteran of the civil rights movement, derided Burmeister's remarks.
"It's unbelievable that any elected official would say something like this. It doesn't have any, any merit," Lewis said. "This is an affront to every black voter and would-be black voter not just in my district but in the state of Georgia."
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) called Burmeister's claim "reprehensible demagoguery."
"That is racist," he said. "I think the African-American community deserves an apology."
The memo also states that in defending the Georgia law, Burmeister claimed the voter IDs would not be as difficult to obtain as critics claim because Gov. Sonny Perdue "had passed legislation to mandate a [state Department of Driver Services] office in every county and that individuals can obtain state IDs in Kroger grocery stores."
"Neither statement is correct," the memo concludes.
Perdue spokeswoman Heather Hedrick said Thursday that memo's claims that the voter ID law would adversely affect minority voting doesn't change the governor's support for the measure.
"This is common-sense legislation," Hedrick said. "Under the old rules, an illegal alien could pick up a library card out of the trash and use it to cast a ballot. Voting is a sacred right and it deserves safeguards to prevent fraud."