Judge throws out Georgia’s photo voter ID law

Published 6:59 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A state judge rejected the latest version of Georgia’s law requiring voters to show photo ID, ruling Thursday that the measure violates the constitutional rights of the state’s residents.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. ruled that the photo ID requirement disenfranchises otherwise qualified voters and adds a new, unconstitutional condition to voting in the state.

“This cannot be,” Bedford wrote, pointing out that a photo ID isn’t even required to register to vote in Georgia.

The case is expected to go before the Georgia Supreme Court before the Nov. 7 general elections. The state attorney general’s office said an appeal was in the works.

“We expect an appeal to be filed as quickly as possible,” spokesman Russ Willard said.

In his 17-page ruling, Bedford took issue with the burden placed on voters to prove who they are using photo ID. Even if voters are allowed to cast ballots without the required identification, they must return within 48 hours with one of the six necessary photo IDs or their vote is forfeited.

“Any attempt by the Legislature to require more than what is required by the express language of our Constitution cannot withstand judicial scrutiny,” Bedford wrote.

Supporters of the photo ID law, including Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, say it is needed to protect against voter fraud. Opponents, including former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, argue it disenfranchises poor, elderly and minority voters who are less likely to have a driver’s license or other valid government-issued photo ID.

The new law took effect July 1, but its enforcement was blocked by state and federal judges during the state’s July primaries and August runoffs. Last week, a federal judge also blocked the law’s enforcement during more than 20 local special elections held Tuesday.

Last October, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy struck down an earlier version of the law, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. The Georgia Legislature addressed his complaints in the latest version, but when Murphy issued an injunction before the July 18 primaries, he said the state had not taken enough time to educate voters.

Because the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t approve the photo ID requirement until late June, the state’s election board had only three weeks to educate voters before the primaries — a window that was too short, Murphy said then.

Elections supervisors across the state have trained poll workers on both the old law and the new one.

Last week, Murphy blocked the law from being enforced in more than 20 special elections Tuesday.

Nationwide, 24 states have legislation requiring voters to show some form of identification. Of those, seven including Georgia have passed legislation requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

The issue heads to Congress on Wednesday as the House of Representatives is expected to debate requiring all voters to obtain and show government-issued photo ID that proves their citizenship.BECKLEY, W.Va.