Bill would require proof of citizenship to vote

Co-sponsor Mills wants to ‘protect the integrity of the voting system’

By Melissa Weinman

According to the state of Georgia, Arthur Remillard does not exist.

The 75-year-old Massachusetts native just can’t seem to prove his existence. Delivered by a midwife in 1933 and later adopted, Remillard has no birth certificate.

As a result, Remillard cannot get a driver’s license or vote, two things he said he has done all his life.

Following the state’s controversial decision last year to require state-issued photo identification to vote, a recent bill proposed at the Capitol would ask people to present proof of citizenship to register to vote. That proof could include a birth certificate, passport, naturalization papers or a driver’s license — provided you showed proper proof of citizenship to get it.

Remillard said since he moved to Braselton in 2004, he has not been able to obtain a driver’s license, which has caused him many hardships.

He lost his job after his Florida driver’s license expired, and he has not been able to get another job to supplement his Social Security income. Without a state-issued ID, he also has been denied state aid.

He has exhausted many avenues and finds himself stuck in a loop: He needs a driver’s license to apply for a birth certificate and a birth certificate to apply for a driver’s license.

“I’ve been trying to figure out who my biological father and mother is. … Everything I come with is a dead end,” Remillard said. “There’s no record of my birth in the state of Massachusetts and no record of any adoption.”

The closest thing Remillard can find to a birth certificate is a record of his baptism.

And though a passport would be an acceptable substitution for a birth certificate, Remillard doesn’t have one.

“I don’t need a passport; I don’t go anywhere out of the country,” Remillard said.

Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, is among the authors of House Bill 139 requiring proof of citizenship. Current law only requires those registering to vote to swear or affirm that they are a U.S. citizen by checking a box on the application.

Mills said he believes the measure is necessary to prevent voter fraud.

“I believe it’s important to protect the integrity of the voting system,” Mills said.

Mills said he patterned the bill after one that was passed in Arizona in reaction to the large number of immigrants in the state who could be trying to vote without becoming citizens.

“We’re not trying to keep anyone who’s a legal citizen from voting,” Mills said.

Co-sponsors of the bill are Reps. Roger Williams, R-Dalton, and Tom Graves, R-Ranger.

Secretary of State Karen Handel offered her support of the bill and verified the need for additional security.

“This is a natural step forward in making sure we not only have integrity at the ballot point but in the voter registration list as well,” she said.

Last fall, hundreds of ballots had to be discarded because they were not cast by citizens.”Two weeks before the presidential election, we had over 6,000 individuals who had some sort of question or issue with their citizenship status,” Handel said. “This is a very real issue that needs to be dealt with not just in the state of Georgia but I would say in other states as well.”Handel said current law allows individuals to cast a challenged ballot and later return to prove their citizenship.”Clearly it makes much more sense for the voter to require the information up front so we can really streamline that back-end process,” Handel said.

But others, such as Gainesville attorney Arturo Corso, say the bill is a Republican-led effort to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, who are traditionally Democrats.

“It’s just shocking that any elected official could look at their community and say that they want less people to vote, not more,” Corso said. “I wish that James Mills would just grow one of those pencil-thin mustaches and twirl the ends of it when he comes up with these ideas.”

Corso said for many, obtaining a birth certificate could require taking off work to go to a state office of vital records or traveling to a relative’s house. That obstacle doesn’t exist for those who have their records readily available.

“It’s just another step of the process that isn’t there for traditional Republican voters,” Corso said. “Poor people don’t have all of their documents at their fingertips. It’s an unreasonable burden on that person’s right to vote.”

Georgia’s voting requirements are stricter than those in some neighboring states.

Florida, Alabama and Tennessee only require a driver’s license number or Social Security number to register to vote. And voters in those states can bring any number of ID forms, including a utility bill or school ID, not just a state-issued photo ID.

Remillard said not having a birth certificate was not a problem when he lived in other states.

“All this is stemming since I came to Georgia,” Remillard said.

To obtain a Georgia driver’s license, you need to provide two to three forms of identification.

“The Department of Driver Services (DDS) requires each customer to prove his or her identity, citizenship or lawful presence in the United States, and residency in the state of Georgia,” Jennifer Ammons, general counsel for the Department of Driver Services, said in an e-mail.

To prove citizenship, you need to provide a certified copy of a birth certificate, a passport, a military ID, court records relating to identity or immigration documents. Those without a birth certificate must apply for one from their state of birth.

Corso said the bill, if passed, would probably make it harder for first-time, American-born voters than the immigrants the bill is aimed at.

“The truth is, that someone who has just become a citizen this year probably has their documents in order and at their fingertips,” Corso said. “I’m more concerned with the people who have been citizens for a long time but they just have never registered to vote before because they never felt like they would have a real voice before.”

Remillard said he thinks the bill, targeted at keeping noncitizens from voting, could make it difficult for older voters who are registering for the first time or in a new state.

“It’s a problem for anybody who can’t produce a birth certificate,” Remillard said. “I have talked to nine different people in practically the same situation as myself.”

Mills said the measure is not meant to deny anyone who is eligible from voting, and unique situations would be considered.

“I think there would be methods put in place, and there’s language that we’ve added to the bill that I think would allow the state elections department to look into someone’s situation,” Mills said.

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