A bill that could make Georgia one of two states in the nation to require voters to prove citizenship when registering to vote came straight from Gainesville state Rep. James Mills.
Mills’ bill requires that anyone registering to vote in the state after Dec. 31 this year will have to provide either a state driver’s license, a copy of a birth certificate or passport, naturalization papers or a Bureau of Indian Affairs card number to prove U.S. citizenship.
The only current requirement is for registering voters to check a box swearing their citizenship on an application.
Mills’ bill passed the state House 102-63 on Wednesday and is similar to a resolution the state Senate passed by a 34-20 vote the day before.
Hall County’s Interim Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee-Hunter says the bill, if it becomes law, will not change much about the way her office operates.
"Any newly registered voter in the state of Georgia has to submit a copy of ID anyway," she said.
"Its not really a new procedure."
Neither the Senate resolution nor Mills’ bill require local elections offices to verify the authenticity of the citizenship documents through state or federal agencies.
Gainesville immigration law attorney Arturo Corso said since neither the resolution nor the bill have a way for local
elections officials to check documents, criminals who would try to vote illegally probably could find a way around the law.
Mills does not deny that, and says it further proves why his bill is needed. He says the bill requires that birth certificates be checked against information on driver’s licenses.
"There will always be questions about documents and their authenticity," Mills said. "But if someone will break into this country illegally, we’re silly to think that they would not just sign a document saying that they are a citizen, when they in truth may not be a citizen. Thus, House Bill 45 and the need for it."
Secretary of State Karen Handel, a GOP candidate for governor in 2010, praised the Senate bill. Her director of communications, Matt Carrothers, said the state agency threw out 230 ballots from the Nov. 4 election because of questions of various voters’ citizenship status.
"The law will strengthen and protect the elections process," Carrothers said. "It also will ... streamline the voter registration process by requiring voters to provide proof on the front end of the process."
Democrats opposed to the resolution likened it to the photo ID requirement, arguing that it seeks to place a hurdle between poor, elderly or minority voters and the ballot box.
"At some point, at some time, we’ve got to say enough is enough. And ask, do we have any shame?" said state Sen. Vincent Fort, an Atlanta Democrat.
Corso argues that the law may not have the intended effect on illegal immigrants as much as it will on poor people and minorities.
"In this economy, where people are losing their houses by the hundreds and thousands, they take with them their children and their clothing and their toothbrush when they get evicted," Corso said. "They don’t necessarily grab their filing cabinet. And these are the people who are going to have the hardest time voting under this new proposed law."
Corso said he is not quick to believe Handel’s claims that many illegal immigrants may have tried to vote in the fall election.
"I think that there are no immigrants in Georgia that are not entitled to vote that are actually voting," he said. "That is a complete fantasy of the secretary of state."
Mills said he does not know what will happen next to his bill. The Senate soon will begin reading the House bill, and vice versa, and decide which one will head to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s desk.
"Either the Senate will agree to go with my House bill or the House will agree to go with the Senate bill," Mills said. "The concepts are pretty much the same. I don’t really care who gets the credit as long as we protect the integrity of our voting system."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.