The Justice Department yesterday played down the importance of a memorandum that concluded that a Georgia voter identification program would hurt black voters, saying the document was a draft that contained old data and faulty analysis.
The memo's conclusions were overruled by senior Justice officials, who announced Aug. 26 that the controversial voter plan could proceed because it was not retrogressive, or harmful to black voters, under the Voting Rights Act. The plan has since been blocked by the federal courts on constitutional grounds.
Justice spokesman Eric Holland said in a statement that the 51-page memo "was an early draft that did not include data and analysis from other voting section career attorneys who recognized the absence of a retrogressive effect." He said the document contained "analytical flaws" and "factual errors."
"The early draft . . . does not represent the quality of factual and legal analysis that the Justice Department expects in a final product," Holland said.
Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Georgia and other states with a history of discriminatory elections are required to submit changes to their voting systems for approval by the Justice Department. The GOP-controlled Georgia legislature in March approved a plan that required voters to have photo IDs, a measure that was strongly opposed by black lawmakers and many Democrats.
The 51-page Justice memo was obtained by The Washington Post and posted on its Web site yesterday. The document was dated Aug. 25 and endorsed by four of five members of a legal review team from the department's voting rights section. It concluded that the Georgia voting plan should be blocked because there was significant evidence that it would hurt black voters. It also said the state had not shown the plan would not be retrogressive.
The Justice Department has declined to release documents related to the decision, saying they are internal work product.
Some congressional Democrats from Georgia accused the Justice Department yesterday of making it seem there was near-unanimous support among the career lawyers for the law. "We were misled," said Rep. John Barrow, according to the Associated Press.