A metro Atlanta city offered residents who registered to vote or confirmed their voter status a $50 discount from citations, raising questions about whether the plan violated state law that bans giving money or gifts in exchange for registering voters.
The City of South Fulton advertised the discount ahead of the voter registration deadline, and city solicitor LaDawn Jones said it was an example of the city’s “innovative” criminal justice system.
“I feel it is the responsibility of the courts to educate the citizens before it, including in the area of participating in elections. We did not force anyone to accept the reduced fee if they provided the paperwork,” said Jones. “Further, I did not inquire about their political preference or mention any candidate or campaign.”
It caught the attention of Mayor Bill Edwards, who told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he would seek a legal review of the discount.
"I don't know whether it's legal or illegal to do that," Edwards said. "If it's legal and it gets people to vote, God bless 'em. We're going to get an opinion as to whether an incentive is legal or not."
Edwards said he's in favor of any action Jones or the city can legally take to increase registration and encourage voting in the majority-black city. Minority groups often have lower voter participation rates.
"These are very important elections," he said. "If it's legal and it's not hurting anybody, I'm fine with it."
The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees state elections, said it had not received any complaints about the discount.
The deadline to register to vote was Tuesday, and Democrats have launched a broad effort to sign up new voters and encourage others who rarely cast ballots to vote in November.
Georgia law makes it illegal to get money or gifts for registering voters, but Jones cast the discount as part of a “common practice” to give residents an alternative to paying a fine. Other options the city has offered have included attending city council meetings or completing community service.
“Considering a person’s civic engagement is not money nor is it a gift,” said Jones.
“Everyone left the City of South Fulton paying for a traffic citation. The Legislature was clear on their intent, which was to prohibit the giving of money and gifts. Anyone arguing that having to pay for a traffic citation is getting money is making a political mountain out of a molehill.”