WASHINGTON (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday alleged that Georgia circumvented a federal law by failing to get Justice Department approval before hiking the fee for a controversial new voter identification card.
The governor's office insisted it notified the department of the change and will waive all fees for poor residents.
Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, complained of the fee hike in a letter to John Tanner, chief of the department's voting section. McDonald said state officials are selling five-year cards for $20 and 10-year cards for $35, even though the Justice Department had only approved a $10 fee for four-year cards.
``The more expensive it is, the more of a burden it gets to be,'' McDonald said in an interview.
Dan McLagan, spokesman for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the state included a copy of the proposed fee increase in a package of documents it sent the Justice Department to win approval of its new law requiring photo identification at the polls.
The changes, which took effect July 1, also provide for a $5 discount for phone and Internet orders and remove the fee for the poorest residents, McLagan said. However, McDonald said prospective voters have to go through an ``elaborate procedure'' to get the fee waived.
Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said the department hadn't received the letter but would carefully review the contents once it does.
The letter marks the first shot in what could be a long legal battle over Georgia's new voter identification law. The Republican-backed measure sparked racial tensions during the legislative session last spring. Most of Georgia's black lawmakers walked out at the state Capitol when it was approved.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Georgia and other states with a history of racial discrimination must get federal approval to change their voting laws. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cleared the Georgia law a week ago, but in the decision Tanner wrote the action doesn't preclude lawsuits."