Voters would have to prove citizenship

ATLANTA --- Georgia is poised to become the second state in the nation to require prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before they cast their ballot, as lawmakers passed tough new restrictions intended to crack down on voter fraud.

The Georgia House voted 102-63 on Wednesday to require voters to prove citizenship using a passport, a driver's license or other documents, one day after the Senate passed a similar measure. Legislators would have to hash out minor differences between the two versions before it goes to Gov. Sonny Perdue's desk.

Only Arizona requires proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Secretary of State Karen Handel, Georgia's top election official, and other supporters consider the measure crucial to halting voter fraud and preserving confidence in the electoral system. They say the current system, which requires voters to check a box on an application affirming they are a U.S. citizen, is deeply flawed.

"If it's important enough that it's already a part of the law to be a citizen to vote, then you should provide that proof before you can vote," said state Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville.

But critics say it's a version of a poll tax that could disenfranchise the elderly and others who may not have a passport, birth certificate or other proof of citizenship. State Rep. Pedro Marin, one of Georgia's few Hispanic state legislators, called the bill a "Gestapo tactic" that could discourage some from registering to vote.

"Voting is one of the few opportunities when the principles of equality are fully realized," said Mr. Marin, D-Duluth. "Our country, our state is a better place when all who have the right to vote can do so without obstruction."

The proposal would require potential voters to provide proof of citizenship with their application, such as a driver's license, birth certificate, U.S. passport or U.S. naturalization documents. It would kick in next year.

Immigrant rights activists also have come out strongly against the proposed law.

"America has changed," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials. "We elected an African-American president, but Georgia wants to go back to the 1950s by enacting very restrictive, very cumbersome voting practices."