ATLANTA - At least 57 voters lacked the needed photo identification in November's local elections and were forced to cast provisional ballots, state elections officials said Monday.
Georgia's bitterly disputed voter ID law was cleared by the courts earlier this year. The November elections in 92 counties were the largest test to date for the new law, which requires all voters appearing at the ballot box to show a government-issued photo ID. Those who lack the required ID may cast a provisional ballot but must then reappear with a valid ID within 48 hours for their vote to count.
The numbers released on Monday represent just 24 municipalities and 37 counties so the actual number of those voters who lacked the required ID is likely higher.
Critics of the law say the number is worrisome, especially since the state has launched a broad voter outreach effort to let residents know about the new requirements.
'It's a high number,' Jennifer Owens, executive director of the Georgia arm of the League of Women Voters said on Monday.
'If you have 57 in a small election where almost no one votes then what are you looking at come February?' she said.
The state's voter ID law will face its stiffest hurdle yet in the Feb. 5 presidential primary when turnout among Georgia's 4.4 million registered voters is expected to be far higher than in November's local contests. The Democratic and Republican presidential contests have been hotly contested this year with no incumbent in the mix.
Secretary of State Karen Handel's office has identified almost 200,000 Georgians who could lack photo IDs. Critics have predicted problems at the polls if they show up to vote.
But Handel has launched a broad education effort, which has begun by targeting those voters most likely to lack photo IDs. In a speech on Saturday she said that the November elections 'went extraordinarily smoothly.'
A spokesman for Handel said Monday that the provisional ballots cast in the November elections show the system is working.
'They were able to cast a provisional ballot.' Matthew Carrothers said.
Republican state election board member Randy Evans said the number came in 'about where I expected.'
'I was encouraged that folks used the option of a provisional ballot because one of the things we are told is that they wouldn't bother,' Evans said.
Statistics about the total number of votes cast in those counties was not immediately available on Monday. Neither was a tally of how many of those that cast provisional ballots ultimately returned with the needed ID. The state has made free photo IDs available to anyone who needs them.
A complete tally from all the counties was not yet available because the local officials are not required to report the election results to the state, something Handel wants to change.