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Monday, September 27, 2010

PolitiFact Georgia | GOP said candidate Roy Barnes fought to give illegal immigrants the chance to vote

PolitiFact Georgia | GOP said candidate Roy Barnes fought to give illegal immigrants the chance to vote

This election season, illegal immigrants stand alongside President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as among the Republicans' favorite bad guys.

Now a Republican spoof attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Roy Barnes' career as an attorney said he pushed for them to break the law.

At www.1888kingroy.com, sponsored by the Republican Governors Association, you'll read that
"Roy Barnes has fought to give illegal immigrants the right to vote."

"In other words, no ID, no problemo!" it said.

And if you call 1-888-King-Roy begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-King-Roy end_of_the_skype_highlighting, you'll be prompted to dial 3 "if you're an illegal immigrant."

It sends you to this recorded message:

"Hola. As you know, Roy has been fighting hard to give you the ability to vote. If you are interested in voting, leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Adios. Vaya con Dios."

Barnes was "fighting hard" to help illegal immigrants break the law and vote? Dios mio!

If this accusation sticks, it would be a damaging blow for Barnes, a centrist running a close race with Republican candidate and former U.S. Congressman Nathan Deal. Libertarian John Monds trails them.

The RGA's argument is this:

For years, Georgia allowed documents such as utility bills and bank statements to serve as voter identification. In 2005, the state Legislature passed a law requiring that voters present photo identification at the polls. A revised version passed in 2006 after the first law failed legal challenges.

Barnes filed a lawsuit on behalf of clients who said the legislation violated the state constitution. If the suit won, the law would not have gone into effect. That would have meant that voters could use bank statements as identification.

Because Barnes was a member of an advisory board to Georgia Appleseed, a nonprofit the RGA said "specializes in efforts designed to aid illegal immigrants" and has a program to "provide advice on opening a bank account without a Social Security number," the GOP group said he was helping illegal immigrants get the vote.

"Clearly if he had been successful with the lawsuit, Barnes' group, Georgia Appleseed, could have provided a roadmap for more illegal immigrants to obtain bank accounts, and therefore the necessary paperwork to vote," the website concludes.

We took a closer look at the RGA's argument.

Barnes was an attorney for the plaintiffs in 2006's Lake v. Perdue. The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, argued that a law mandating voters to show one of six forms of government-issued photo identification at the polls violated the Georgia Constitution.

The suit lost before the state Supreme Court. But according to the Secretary of State's Office and a voting expert who once served on the Fulton County Board of Registrations and Elections, if the suit had won, bank statements would have been acceptable forms of voter ID.

So the RGA is correct on that count. The old law that allowed bank statements as voter IDs would have been in effect if Barnes had won.

But beyond this point, the RGA's argument falls apart.

For Republicans to claim Barnes fought to give illegal immigrants the right to vote, the former governor would have actually had to have pushed for it. So we took a closer look at what Barnes' lawsuit actually fought for.

There is no mention of illegal immigrants in the complaint Barnes filed on behalf of his clients, much less the idea that they should have access to the polls. The suit objected to the law because it would place high obstacles to voting on the poor, elderly, and visually and physically impaired.

The complaint also argued that the law treated in-person voters differently than absentee voters, who are more often white than black, and that there were better ways to prevent voter fraud.

Laughlin McDonald, the Atlanta director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project, said that describing Barnes' lawsuit as supporting voting by illegal immigrants is a "misrepresentation of the issue." The ACLU opposed the photo ID law.

Voting rights experts we consulted also agreed the RGA's characterization is incorrect.

"This is really an outrageous distortion," said Daniel Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University who is an expert in voting rights.

"They were instead challenging a law that raised serious legal questions, given its potential to impede voting by U.S. citizens of limited means," Tokaji said. "Whether or not one agrees with their position on the legal merits, this is a gross mischaracterization."

Some argued the photo ID requirements might make it more difficult for noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, to cast ballots, said Michael Pitts, a voting rights expert at the Indiana University School of Law. But this has mostly been a "side issue" in the larger debate.

"The lawsuits filed against photo identification requirements have not been based on a desire to provide illegal immigrants with voting rights, rather they have been about whether certain groups of United States citizens, such as the poor, the elderly and African Americans, might be unable to cast a ballot because they do not possess the required photo identification," Pitts said.

We also took a look at Barnes' connection to Georgia Appleseed, which the RGA said "specializes in efforts designed to aid illegal immigrants." If Barnes were indeed on the board of advisers of such a group, a more general claim that he supported advocacy work to aid illegal immigrants might contain some truth.

Executive Director Sharon Hill confirmed that Barnes served on the group's board of directors from 2005 through 2008 and now sits on its board of advisers. Georgia Appleseed issued a news release in response to the ad saying its work is being "mischaracterized."

Chuck Clay, a member of Georgia Appleseed's board of directors as well as a former chairman of the state Republican Party and Republican minority leader of the Georgia state Senate, said the group in no way specializes in helping illegal immigrants.

"That would be 100 percent incorrect," Clay said. "It [the accusation] does make you scratch your head and wonder whether the people saying that looked up the [Georgia Appleseed] website."

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