Published Tuesday, October 30, 2012
By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
ATLANTA – Paola Diaz was eager to vote for the first time since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2010, so she carried her passport, voter card, naturalization papers and other documents with her to the polling place at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, only to learn her name was flagged in local records.
Seven hours later, after multiple phone calls, faxes and trips to various government offices, she finally learned that someone accepted her status as genuine. Monday, she voted on her birthday.
She was still wearing the voter sticker she received that afternoon when she spoke to reporters about her ordeal and to warn others to vote early.
"Someone who comes in a facility with a U.S. passport, what else should be needed?" she said. "I feel that all the bureaucracy didn't make sense as necessary. It's not necessary."
Diaz notes that she has more time and resources to get the challenge corrected as someone with two masters degrees and 15 years of dealing with the government as a consultant with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Someone less educated, experienced or in a job that didn't allow a full day to vote would be hamstrung, she said.
"This is just too much hassle, I know, a lot of people would not go through," she said.
Sarah Shaft, an Emory University law professor who represents the Election Protection coalition of legal groups, said a poll worker should have notified a registrar that a passport was presented and requested authority to allow Diaz to vote. Such problems are why she recommends people vote early to leave time for sorting out clerical errors.
Other voter-rights groups say they're not surprised.
"A lot of the problems we talked about as potentially happening, problems that could arise in the citizenship verification, are happening. We're concerned about that," said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.
GALEO was one of several groups that challenged Georgia's citizenship-verification law in court and lost.
Gonzalez said he's dealt with another voter from Fulton County like Diaz and one from Cobb County who had similar problems. He called on Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees local election officials, to step up training and supervision of poll workers to prevent mistakes.
Kemp said protecting voting rights was sacred to him.
"Our Office will continue to work tirelessly with our local election officials to make sure that this process is as smooth and safe as possible for every Georgia citizen," he said.
Asked if the three citizenship problems out of 6 million voters constitutes a trend, Shaft said it's too early to say in this year's election.
"I don't have a sense yet if citizenship outstrips other errors, but it keeps popping up," she said.