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Voter ID required for September special elections

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POSTED: August 17, 2007 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls for a special election in September, Secretary of State Karen Handel said Tuesday.
But a lawyer challenging the law in federal court said he will ask a judge to block it yet again.
"The state says they want to fight and we say you've come to the right place. Bring it on," Emmet Bondurant said.
The Georgia Supreme Court in June threw out a challenge to the 2006 law filed by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes. He contended that the law requiring voters to present a photo ID imposed an undue burden. A Fulton County judge agreed, and held that the law was unconstitutional.
But in a unanimous ruling, the state's top court found that the plaintiff in the case, Rosalind Lake, lacked legal standing to challenge the law because she could not prove she had been harmed by it. The justices did not address the issue of whether the law was constitutionally valid.
On Friday, the Supreme Court denied Barnes' motion to reconsider.
Handel said Tuesday that the ruling cleared the way to begin implementing the law. But first, she said, the state will launch an education effort to let voters know about the new requirement.
At least 22 of Georgia's 159 counties are scheduled to hold special elections on Sept. 18 for local seats.
Handel said Tuesday the outreach would begin in those counties with letters to 77,000 registered voters who, according to records, lack either a driver's license or a non-driver photo ID issued by the state Department of Drivers Services. The state will eventually mail out letters outlining the new requirements to all 1.15 million registered voters in those counties, she said.
The state Legislature provided $500,000 for voter ID education efforts in the fiscal year 2008 budget and Handel said the effort will ultimately include public service announcements and possibly notices placed in utility bills. She also plans to tour the affected counties speaking to community groups about the changes.
"I feel a deep personal responsibility to launch the most comprehensive education effort that we can," Handel said in an interview.
U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy cited the lack of education on the changes in the law in his last ruling blocking the law.
Lawyers and legislators in Georgia have been battling over voter ID for several years now.
Murphy struck down an earlier version of the law in 2005, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. The Legislature addressed his complaints in a subsequent version which made photo IDs free to anyone who needed them, but Murphy blocked that law in September.
Murphy had imposed a stay blocking enforcement of the law while the state appeal filed by Barnes was pending. Armed with the latest state Supreme Court ruling, state lawyers have asked him to lift that stay.
Bondurant said he is hopeful that Murphy will hear arguments before the Sept. 18 special elections.
Opponents claim the photo ID law will disenfranchise minorities, the poor and the elderly who don't have a driver's license or other valid government-issued photo ID. A recent court filing said more than 300,0000 people lack a driver's license, the most commonly used form of photo ID.
Supporters dispute that number and say the law is needed to prevent voter fraud and preserve the integrity of the electoral system. No examples of in-person voter fraud have been presented, though the proposal's backers often mention the threat of non-citizens casting illegal ballots.
So far, the courts have sided with critics of the law in rulings that have addressed the merits. The voter ID law was used three times in 2005 county elections in Richmond and Gwinnett counties before it was blocked.
Georgia's is one of several voter ID laws passed in recent years across the country.
Laws in Arizona, Indiana and Michigan have survived court challenges. But Missouri's top court struck down that state's law.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press

 

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