The American Civil Liberties Union alleged yesterday that Georgia circumvented a federal law by raising the fee for a controversial new voter identification card without getting permission from the Justice Department.
The governor's office insisted that it did notify the department of the change and said it will waive all fees for poor residents.
Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, complained of the fee increase in a letter to John K. Tanner, chief of the Justice Department's rights division's voting section.
McDonald said state officials are selling five-year ID 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.
Dan McLagan, spokesman for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), said the state included a copy of the proposed fee increase in a package of documents it sent to the Justice Department to win approval of a new state law requiring a driver's license or other form of state-issued photo ID at the polls.
The changes, which took effect July 1, provide for a $5 discount for phone and Internet orders for ID cards and remove the fee for the poorest residents, McLagan said. But McDonald said prospective voters have to go through an "elaborate procedure" to have the fee waived.
Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said the department had not received the ACLU letter but will review it carefully upon receipt.
The letter marks the first shot in what could be a long legal battle over Georgia's new voter ID law. The Republican-backed measure sparked racial tensions during the legislative session last spring.
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.