House OKs revamped voter ID bill

ATLANTA - A revamped version of last year's law requiring Georgia voters to show a photo ID at the polls cleared the House on Thursday over objections from Democrats who said it would erect an unfair barrier to the elderly and minorities.

The bill, which passed 110-64 and now goes to the Senate, was designed by Republican legislative leaders to make it easier for voters who don't already have a government-issued photo ID to get one.

The photo ID law the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed last year, prompting Democrats to walk out of the House chamber in protest, required voters without a passport or driver's license to pay a fee to obtain a state-issued photo ID.

Other than a program involving one roving bus, it also limited availability of those IDs to state Department of Driver Services offices.

But a federal court judge issued a temporary injunction last fall prohibiting the state from enforcing that law. As a result, Republicans brought out a new version of the legislation this week - the start of the 2006 session - offering to provide the IDs free at all 159 county registrars' offices.

"It makes some positive changes to the current ID bill," said Rep. Mickey Channell, D-Greensboro, one of 10 rural Democrats - all white - who voted for the bill.

During a debate that has raged for nearly a year, Republicans have pitched the photo ID requirement as a surefire way to prevent fraud at the polls.

But Democrats, who took up most of the more than four hours the bill spent on the House floor Thursday, argued that it is not needed because there haven't been any reported instances in Georgia of voters misrepresenting themselves at the polls.

A parade of Democratic speakers also declared that mandating photo IDs would have a disproportionate impact on elderly and minority voters.

House Democratic leader DuBose Porter of Dublin even labeled the measure the "How to Make it Harder for your Elderly Mother to Vote Act of 2006."

He said many seniors no longer have valid driver's licenses or were born without birth certificates, one of the documents the bill requires people to show their registrar to get a photo ID.

"We're putting a different standard on a group of people to do something that's a fundamental right in this country," Porter said.

Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, and other black Democrats charged Republicans with trying to keep black voters away from the polls because they tend to support Democratic candidates.

"You are attempting to perpetuate your own power and ability to control this state ... by depriving Georgians of their constitutional rights," he said.

But freshman Rep. Melvin Everson, R-Snellville, who this week became the first black Republican in more than a century elected to the General Assembly in a contested race, said fraud is the real source of disenfranchising honest voters in Georgia.

Everson won his seat last summer in a special election when the photo ID law passed last year was still in effect and said there were no problems with it.

In his first speech on the House floor, he countered Democratic arguments that the law isn't necessary by comparing the photo ID to a smoke detector.

"I don't wait until the house has burned down before I put in a smoke detector," he said. "This is a protective measure."

With Republicans determined to pass the bill quickly and send it to Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Senate is expected to take it up today.