Board in no hurry to rule on voter ID

ATLANTA - The State Election Board voted Friday to appeal a court ruling this week that declared unconstitutional Georgia's new law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

But with elections only a little more than six weeks away, board members decided not to ask the Georgia Supreme Court to expedite the case, making a decision unlikely before Election Day.

A reversal of Tuesday's lower-court decision would only confuse voters by changing the rules just prior to the Nov. 7 election, said Randy Evans, who represents the Republican Party on the board.

"We have no effective mechanism to confirm the identity of voters,'' he said. "(But) we have to deal with an election that's just a few short weeks away.''

The Republican-controlled General Assembly first passed the photo ID requirement last year, only to see it overturned by a federal judge last fall.

Lawmakers came back to tweak the measure this year, adding provisions to make photo IDs free and available at elections offices in all 159 counties.

But it still didn't pass muster in either the state or federal courts.

In Tuesday's ruling, Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. wrote that requiring Georgians to show a photo ID as a prerequisite for voting violates the state Constitution.

Bedford sided with arguments delivered in the case two weeks ago by former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, who said the only requirements the Constitution places on the right to vote are citizenship, residency and age. It also prohibits people who are convicted felons or who have been judged mentally incompetent from voting, the ex-governor said.

Before Friday's 3-1 board vote, Evans complained that the judge's ruling will allow any Georgian who wants to commit voter fraud to do so simply by signing an affidavit swearing that he or she is the person whose name appears on the form.

Throughout the two years of debate over the bill, Republicans have said their goal in requiring photo IDs is preventing fraud at the polls.

"Unlike other countries, like Mexico, which requires a photo ID ... the only thing we can require a voter to do is sign a sheet of paper,'' Evans said, holding up a blank affidavit to illustrate his point. "That is how low Judge Bedford's decision has taken us.''

But David Worley, who represents the Democratic Party on the board, said the ruling merely returns the voter ID law to where it was before the photo requirement was enacted.

The old law, passed in 1997, requires voters to present one of 17 forms of ID, including items like utility bills or bank statements that don't contain photos. It allows voters who don't have any of those IDs to sign an affidavit.

Worley complained that the state has spent at least $469,000 defending a politically motivated law.

Democrats have repeatedly charged that Republicans want to make it more difficult for people who don't have driver's licenses to vote because many are poor or elderly, groups of voters who tend to support Democratic candidates.

"This whole exercise is nothing more than an attempt to suppress the votes of citizens of this state,'' Worley said.

Even though the photo ID law probably won't be in effect on Election Day, Kathy Rogers, director of the Secretary of State's Elections Division, said information on how to obtain the free IDs will continue to be available on the agency's Web site. Local registrars also will continue issuing IDs to people who want them, she said.