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Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 4:59pm

State To Sue Over Voter Checks

Georgia plans to sue the Obama administration after the Justice Department for the third time blocked the state's efforts to check the citizenship of newly registering voters.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp accused the feds of "playing politics" with Georgia's election process. Kemp said Tuesday the state would ask the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia to clear the state's system of using Social Security numbers and driver's license data to confirm whether prospective voters are U.S. citizens.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, Georgia and other states with a history of discriminatory voting practices must preclear any changes to election rules with the Justice Department or through the federal courts.

"The state of Georgia will no longer watch the Obama Justice Department play politics with our election processes and protections," Kemp said in a statement released Tuesday.

Kemp said the state will also ask the court to clear a separate law which passed last year in Georgia requiring newly registering voters to provide proof of citizenship.

It has yet to take effect because it needs federal approval.

Kemp said he's asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat, to appoint a special assistant attorney general to represent the state. A spokesman for Baker said he was taking Kemp's request under advisement.

"As always the attorney general will base his decision on how to best protect the interests of the people of Georgia," Russ Willard said. "Political considerations will play no role in his decision."

On Monday Baker appeared before a legislative appropriations panel and said hiring pricey outside counsel exacerbates the state's budget crunch.

Republican-led Georgia was able to push through most of the voting changes it sought under the Bush administration, such as the state's law requiring voters to show a valid photo ID to cast an in-person ballot. But the Democratic Obama administration has thrown up roadblocks.

Implemented in 2007, the state's voter verification system had checked new voters against information in databases held by the Georgia Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration.

After a challenge was filed by voting rights groups in the weeks leading up to the 2008 elections, a federal three-judge panel said the state must seek Justice Department preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division rejected the checks in May and October of last year.

In a Feb. 22 letter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Georgia had not submitted any information persuading officials in Washington to change their mind.

A spokesman at the Justice Department did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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