By Darryl Fears and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
A state judge yesterday rejected a Georgia law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification, writing in his decision, "This cannot be."
Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. said the law, pushed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) to fight voter fraud, violates the state constitution because it disenfranchises citizens who are otherwise qualified to vote.
State officials vowed to appeal Bedford's ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court before the Nov. 7 general election.
The timing of the judge's decision could have political ramifications in Washington. The House is set today to vote on legislation that would require voters in 2008 to present a valid photo identification that "could not have been obtained without proof of citizenship."
The bill is part of a package of measures designed to demonstrate a new get-tough attitude on illegal immigration and border security.
"There have been enough reports over the years of voter fraud that it is time to have a picture ID to ensure the integrity of our voting process," House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday.
Like the Georgia law, the federal legislation would almost certainly be challenged in court. A coalition of interest and civil rights groups, including the NAACP, AARP, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, denounced the bill yesterday, saying it would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of minority and elderly voters.
Georgia's law was challenged by Rosalind Lake, an elderly black woman who was left partially blind after being nearly electrocuted in her home, is unable to drive and could not easily obtain a voter ID, her attorney said.
The lawyer, former governor Roy Barnes, argued that even though the state offered to deliver an ID to Lake's home, it could not do the same for everyone who is similarly challenged.
"We have a low voter participation," said Barnes, a Democrat. "We're going to make it more difficult?"
In previous elections, Georgians could present any one of 17 types of identification with their names and addresses, including a driver's license, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.
Perdue and other proponents of the law said it is needed to curtail fraud. They cited an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that said 5,000 dead people were listed as having voted in the eight elections preceding 2000.
But the fraud happened primarily in absentee balloting, Barnes said. Under the new law, absentee voters are not required to show identification.
"This is the most sinister scheme I've ever seen," Barnes said, "and it's going on nationwide."
Bedford's ruling was the latest in a string of court decisions against the Georgia law. Last year, U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy issued an injunction against the law, likening it to a segregation-era poll tax because the digital picture ID would cost voters $20.
After the Georgia General Assembly revised the law to issue the ID at no cost, Murphy refused to completely lift the injunction, saying the state did not have time to properly educate voters before July primaries.
In his ruling, Bedford said the law places too much of a burden on voters, regardless of certain state remedies. Voters could cast ballots without identification, but they would have to return to an elections office within two days to prove their identity or forfeit their vote.
"Any attempt by the legislature to require more than what is required by the express language of our Constitution cannot withstand judicial scrutiny," Bedford said.
Russ Willard, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said: "The state has already begun working on its appeal. We plan to file an appeal as soon as possible."