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Voter law would require citizenship proof

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel announced earlier this week her backing of a legislative proposal that would require voter registration applicants to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship.

The concept has garnered some support from state legislators and election officials, who say they want to better protect the voting process.

"This additional voter registration safeguard will make Georgia's elections among the most secure in the nation," said Rep. Roger Williams (R-Dalton).

Current law requires those registering to vote to "swear or affirm" that they are a U.S. citizen by checking a box on the application. House Bill 139, sponsored by Williams and Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon) would require those registering to vote after Jan. 1, 2010, to submit one of several forms of proof of U.S. citizenship with their application.

The legislation could be a deterrent to voter fraud, one of the larger concerns elections officials face today, according to Henry County Elections Director Janet Shellnut.

"If you can prove you're a citizen, that cuts down on voter fraud," Shellnut said. "A lot of people register and just check the box, but there's no paperwork to back it up."

Under the proposed law, would-be voters would need to provide a driver's license, birth certificate, U.S. passport, U.S. naturalization documents, or a Bureau of Indian Affairs card.

"I think it will also help in keeping up with who's in your county and in your state," Shellnut added.

Anyone who is registered to vote prior to Jan. 1, 2010, will not be required to submit evidence of citizenship, unless that person updates their voter registration from one county to another after that date.

Staton, who also helped enact Georgia's law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, said the bill should help prevent voter fraud and strengthen the integrity of Georgia's election process.

"I want to thank Rep. Williams and Sen. Staton for working with me on this important issue and for sponsoring this common sense measure," Handel said. "This law will prevent non-citizens from registering to vote and ultimately voting in Georgia's elections."

Handel is also partnering with Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome) in crafting legislation which would establish a program called Project VoteSafe. The program would expand the privacy rights of individuals under protective orders as well as residents of family violence shelters.

The bill, House Bill 227, sponsored by Dempsey, would require those residents be protected from having their addresses exposed during the voting process. They would be able to confidentially register to vote without their voter registration information becoming public information.

"Protecting the privacy of domestic violence victims is always a very good thing," said Majorie Lacy, director of Haven House, an area domestic violence shelter. "Any time they increase the privacy for our clients, we support that."

Under the bill, the Secretary of State's office would be allowed to keep those individuals' personal information private.

"I am thrilled to work with Secretary Handel on this important issue," added Rep. Dempsey. "As a longtime supporter of my community's family violence shelter, this issue is close to my heart and I am proud to take the lead on it."