ATLANTA - The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday turned back a challenge to a law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
The justices ruled unanimously that the woman who sued to overturn the law, represented by former Gov. Roy Barnes, didn't have legal standing to bring the case.
Monday's decision reversed a ruling last fall by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, who declared the law unconstitutional.
The law also is being challenged in federal court.
The photo ID requirement has been a major point of contention between Georgia Republicans and Democrats since the GOP-controlled General Assembly enacted it two years ago.
Republicans have pushed photo IDs as a way to prevent voter fraud and, thus, protect the integrity of the ballot.
Democrats have charged the GOP with using the requirement to reduce the number of senior citizens and minorities going to the polls, groups of voters who are less likely to own a driver's license and tend to support Democratic candidates.
A federal judge rejected the law shortly after its passage in 2005, ruling that lawmakers had made getting a photo ID too burdensome for Georgians who didn't have driver's licenses.
The legislature responded by tweaking the measure during the 2006 session to make the IDs free and available at elections offices in all 159 counties.
But the law continued to run into adverse court rulings, prompting the State Election Board to decide not to require photo IDs during last November's elections.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford declared last September that the state can't use failure to produce a photo ID to deny a person the right to vote.
He ruled that under Georgia's Constitution, a voter must meet only age, residency and citizenship requirements, not be a convicted felon or have been judged mentally incompetent.
But on Monday, the Supreme Court held that Rosalind Lake, the plaintiff in the case, lacked legal standing to challenge the law because she was not denied the right to vote under the statute.
Lake, a former Florida resident, was a first-time Georgia voter when she filed the complaint in July 2006 and, as a result, was exempt from the photo ID requirement, according to the ruling.
"Lake was qualified to vote in person under the 2006 act ... and she suffered no harm from the 2006 act," Justice Harold Melton wrote in Monday's opinion.
Jennifer Jordan, Barnes' co-counsel in the case, said she was disappointed with the ruling. However, she said since the court didn't rule on the merits of the dispute, the case is still alive.
"We really wish they would have dealt with the issue," Jordan said. "Georgia voters deserve an answer to whether this practice is constitutional."
House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, praised the decision and said the fact that Lake was found not to have legal standing was significant.
"Despite their best efforts, the opposition was unable to find anyone in Georgia who could not vote due to the Voter ID law," Richardson said in a prepared statement. "Requiring a photo ID in order to vote just makes sense, and it protects the integrity of the voting process."
Secretary of State Karen Handel said Monday's decision comes too late to affect next week's special election for the 10th Congressional District seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Evans, or a potential runoff next month. Early voting in next Tuesday's contest began on Monday.
However, Handel said her staff will begin educating voters and training elections workers in anticipation of enforcing the photo ID requirement beginning with local special elections set for September.