Wide range of ID accepted for primaries

ATLANTA - A Social Security card, utility bill or bank statement still is all the proof Georgians will need to cast their primary ballots on Tuesday.

Voters choosing Democratic and Republican nominees to state and local offices from governor down to county coroner won't be required to produce government-issued photo IDs, due to two court rulings last week that set aside legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Whether those decisions prohibiting the state from enforcing the photo ID law will avoid bedlam at the polls or simply prevent Georgia from moving forward with a well-designed program to combat voter fraud depends on who you talk to.

Regardless of the merits of requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, the state would not have been ready to start enforcing the new law this week, said David Worley, who represents the Democratic Party on the State

Election Board.

"I think election registrars around the state would have been overwhelmed trying to process ID cards for the volume of people who would have been without a photo ID,'' he said.

But Randy Evans, Worley's Republican counterpart on the board, said county election offices would have been up to the challenge.

"We worked really hard to address all the issues that came up,'' he said during a board meeting last month. "The equipment is in all 159 counties, and the ID is free.''

Indeed, the Republican-controlled Legislature made major changes to the original version of the photo ID bill lawmakers passed last year following a federal court ruling last fall that prevented the state from enforcing the requirement during last November's election.

During this year's General Assembly session, GOP leaders pushed through a revamped bill aimed at making photo IDs easier to obtain.

The legislation required that photo ID equipment be placed at elections offices in every county, instead of just at driver's license bureaus scattered around the state, and that they be offered free. The original legislation had set a $20 fee.

But last week, both state and federal court judges ruled that the law still represents an unconstitutional restriction on access to the ballot box.

The federal lawsuit was brought by several civil rights and voting rights groups, while the state case was argued by former Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes.

Reaction from Republicans was swift.

"The vast majority of our citizens view this as common sense,'' Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, chief sponsor of this year's photo ID bill, said in a written statement.

"Instead of expending energy filing lawsuits and judge shopping, the opponents of this law should be assisting those who actually need to obtain a photo ID so they can exercise their constitutional right to vote.''

Republicans argue that requiring a photo ID at the polls is the best way to prevent voter fraud.

"In Georgia, we had as many as 5,000 dead people vote,'' said Evans, referring to an investigative report released in 2000 by two Atlanta media outlets of the number of dead people who had voted in Georgia elections since 1980. "We could reduce or eliminate that.''

But lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the two court cases charged the law's backers with being disingenuous because they didn't go after fraud in absentee voting, which they said has occurred in far larger numbers.

In the state case, Barnes accused Republicans of using voter fraud as a pretext for a law that would restrict ballot access to poor, elderly and black voters - groups less likely to have driver's licenses - because they tend to support Democratic candidates.

"They created a devil, a false devil ... teaching the next generation that it's all right to politically manipulate a basic fundamental right to win an election,'' he said.

But supporters said the law provided numerous avenues for voters without a photo ID to get one.

For one thing, the measure declared six forms of photo ID - not just driver's licenses - acceptable at the polls. The list also included passports and college IDs issued by public universities.

Also, equipment was to be made available so voters who showed up without a photo ID could get one made on Election Day.

Finally, the law would allow any voter without a photo ID to fill out a provisional ballot, which would be counted if the voter returned within 48 hours with a proper ID.

During the court hearings, the state's lawyers argued that throwing out the new law now, right before the primaries, would create uncertainty at the polls among voters who had been told they'd need a photo ID.

The election board had committed to spending $211,000 on a voter education campaign to make Georgians aware of the new requirement.

But Worley said voters are used to the current ID requirements, enacted during the late 1990s, which allow any of 17 forms of ID. He said there wouldn't have been enough time for the voter education effort to kick in.

"Many would be surprised that they needed a photo ID,'' he said. "We'll have much less confusion this way than if the law had been in effect.''

On Tuesday, poll workers will be enforcing the current state law, which requires that voters show one of the following 17 forms of identification:

•a valid Georgia driver's license;

•a valid identification card issued by a branch, department, agency or entity of the State of Georgia, any other state or the United States authorized by law to issue personal identification

•a valid United States passport;

•a valid employee identification card containing a photograph of the voter and issued by any branch, department, agency or entity of the United States government, this state, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state;

•a valid employee identification card containing a photograph of the voter and issued by any employer of the voter in the ordinary course of such employer's business;

•a valid student identification card containing a photograph of the voter from any public or private college, university, or postgraduate technical or professional school located within the state of Georgia;

•a valid Georgia license to carry a pistol or revolver;

•a valid pilot's license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration or other authorized agency of the United States;

•a valid United States military identification card;

•a certified copy of the voter's birth certificate;

•a valid Social Security card;

•certified naturalization documentation;

•or a certified copy of court records showing adoption, name, or sex change;

•A copy of a utility bill;

•A bank statement (will be kept confidential);

•A government check or payment with name and address;

•A government document that shows the name and address of the voter.

Source: Georgia Secretary of State's office