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Voter ID suit shifts to federal court
Secretary of State defends photo ID requirement

ROME - Lawyers for groups challenging the state's new voter ID law Wednesday attacked the requirement that Georgians show a photo ID at the polls as both ineffective and a threat to voting rights.

While questioning Secretary of State Karen Handel, Georgia's chief elections officer, attorney Emmet Bondurant described a series of scenarios in which a person intent on committing voter fraud could obtain and use a photo ID in someone else's name.

Even with the new law, Bondurant said, someone using a false name could register to vote without having to prove his or her identity.

"The impersonator would have his picture taken and be issued a photo ID," Bondurant said. "That person could then cast an absentee ballot ... or in person at the polls."

The main argument put forth by Republican leaders in the General Assembly when they pushed the photo ID requirement through the legislature two years ago was that it would prevent voter fraud at the polls.

Democrats as well as the voting rights and civil rights groups that have challenged the law in state and federal courts say requiring photo IDs is an attempt by the GOP to make it harder for poor, elderly and minority voters - groups that typically support Democrats - to cast ballots.

The case landed in the Rome courtroom of U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy after the Georgia Supreme Court dismissed a separate lawsuit attempting to overturn the law.

In defending the law, Handel accused Bondurant of "engaging in hypotheticals" to try to raise doubts about the ability of county elections offices to spot voter fraud.

Handel said elections employees are trained to check for similar-looking signatures on absentee ballots.

"That is their job," she said. "All of them know how important it is to check those signatures."

Bondurant also targeted the initiative Handel launched recently to educate voters about the new photo ID requirement in time for special elections on Sept. 18 in nearly two dozen counties.

The secretary of state's office sent letters to 74,000 registered voters who, according to research using state data, don't have either a Georgia driver's license or - if they're not drivers - a state-issued photo ID.

But Bondurant said letters should have gone to more than 198,000 voters who he said fit those categories.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs put two elderly witnesses on the stand who didn't have driver's licenses and, thus, wouldn't be able to vote in person under the new law.

During cross-examination, Special Assistant Attorney General Mark Cohen told both that since the photo ID requirement doesn't apply to absentee ballots, they could vote by mail.

But another witness, Georgia NAACP President Edward DuBose, said the black voters the civil rights group works to register and mobilize are afraid to vote absentee.

"We have been distrustful of a system that has shown an ability to disenfranchise our people," he said. "We know if we can get to the polls and put our vote in, we believe there's a chance it will get counted."

Barring an order from Murphy blocking the new law, state officials intend to enforce it beginning with next month's special elections.