Requiring Photo ID to vote is unconstitutional

  http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/4032566.html

July 7, 2006, 11:30PM
Georgia judge blocks voter ID law
Photo proof of identity ruled an unconstitutional burden for many

By BRENDA GOODMAN

New York Times

ATLANTA - For the second time, a judge has blocked a Republican-sponsored effort to require Georgia voters to present government-issued photo identification cards before they can cast a ballot.

Judge Melvin K. Westmoreland of Fulton County Superior Court said the requirement violates the state constitution by placing an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote. Although the legislature passed the requirement, he said, such a change would require citizens to approve an amendment to the state constitution.

The judge's temporary restraining order was in response to a legal challenge against the requirement filed by former Gov. Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat. Barnes argued that the requirement would make it harder for minorities, the elderly and the poor to vote.

State officials vowed to appeal the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who signed the law earlier this year, said it was needed to ensure the integrity of the ballot box.

"The sad fact is that dead people have cast votes in Georgia and before this law is implemented there was no way to tell how many deceased voters, felons or even illegal aliens may have been casting ballots in Georgia elections," Perdue said in a statement.

Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat who oversees Georgia's elections and who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said there has not been a proven case of voter fraud in the state in nearly a decade. Her office has estimated that some 676,000 otherwise eligible voters lack a driver's license or state-issued photo ID.

The law also faces a challenge in federal court, where a consortium of voters' rights groups have sued on the grounds that the new law also violates the U.S. Constitution.

Since it was first passed in March 2005, the Voter ID law has whipsawed between the legislature and the courts. The first version of the law required voters to have a driver's license or other government ID, or to buy a special state card.

That law was struck down in October by a federal judge, who said the requirement that voters had to buy the card amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The law was later rewritten by the Republican-led legislature to make the ID cards free. But it continued to draw strong criticism. Civil rights groups say those who lack a photo identification are more likely to be black or Hispanic, poor, or elderly groups that traditionally cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. They see the law as a barely disguised attempt to aid Republican candidates.

The judge referred the matter back to state court for a civil trial. A hearing on the federal case is scheduled for next week.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/08/us/08voter.html

Judge Blocks Requirement in Georgia for Voter ID

By BRENDA GOODMAN
Published: July 8, 2006

ATLANTA, July 7 For the second time, a judge has blocked a Republican-sponsored effort to require Georgia voters to present government-issued photo identification cards before they can cast a ballot.

The judge, Melvin K. Westmoreland of Fulton County Superior Court, said the requirement violated the State Constitution by placing an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote.

Although the legislature passed the requirement, Judge Westmoreland said, such a change would require citizens to approve an amendment to the State Constitution, which now says only that voters must be 18 years old, mentally competent and state residents.

The judge's temporary restraining order was in response to a legal challenge against the requirement filed by former Gov. Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat. Mr. Barnes argued that the requirement would make it harder for minorities, the elderly and the poor to vote.

State officials immediately vowed to appeal the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court. Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who signed the measure into law earlier this year, said it was needed to ensure the integrity of the ballot box.

"The sad fact is that dead people have cast votes in Georgia and before this law is implemented there was no way to tell how many deceased voters, felons or even illegal aliens may have been casting ballots in Georgia elections," Mr. Perdue said.

The law also faces a challenge in federal court, where a consortium of voter rights groups have sued on the grounds that it also violates the United States Constitution.

Since it was first passed in March 2005, the voter ID law has whipsawed between the legislature and the courts, with lawmakers struggling to find a way to put the measure into effect without violating federal or state voter protections. Its first version required voters to have a driver's license or other government ID, or to buy a special state card.

That law was struck down in October by a federal judge, who said the requirement that voters buy the card amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The law was then rewritten by the Republican-led legislature to make the ID cards free. But the new version continued to draw strong criticism. Civil rights groups say those who lack a photo identification are more likely to be black or Hispanic, poor, or elderly groups that traditionally cast their ballots for Democratic candidates.

"The law continues to impose an unnecessary burden on voters and does nothing to protect against fraud in voting," said Neil Bradley, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat who oversees Georgia's elections and who is also vying for the Democratic nomination for governor, said there had not been a proven case of voter fraud in the state in nearly a decade. Her office has estimated that some 676,000 otherwise eligible voters lack a driver's license or state-issued photo ID.

Without dwelling on the political implications of the law, Judge Westmoreland agreed with critics who said the legislature had pushed past constitutional protections in passing the measure.

"The General Assembly has wide latitude to legislate unless it undertakes to act where the Georgia Constitution enumerates a clear and unmistakable right to Georgia's citizens," the judge wrote. "It is a given that any illegal restriction of the fundamental right to vote is prohibited."

Mr. Perdue said the state's appeal would rest on ballot security. "I respectfully disagree with Judge Westmoreland and believe that Georgia's law is not only constitutional, but a common sense, prudent protection of the election process," he said.

The restraining order means the law will not be in effect for the state's primaries on July 18. He referred the matter back to state court for a civil trial.

http://www.wsav.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=WSAV/MGArticle/SAV_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1149189007312&path=!frontpage

Voter ID Law on Hold
Associated Press
Friday, July 7, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) - With less than two weeks to go before the July 18th primary, a Superior Court judge today issued a restraining order blocking enforcement of Georgia's voter ID law.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melvin Westmoreland wrote "The Court finds the current statute unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote rather than regulate it and irreparable harm will result if the 2006 Photo ID law is not enjoined."

Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, had argued in court yesterday that the law violates the state's constitution, which guarantees the right to vote. Barnes said it would keep poor, elderly and minority voters from the polls.

Georgia's new ID law requires that every voter who casts a a ballot in person provide a valid, government-issued photo ID.

There is also a federal challenge pending to the state's voter ID law. Arguments in that case are scheduled for Wednesday in US District Court in Rome.

Georgia's Republican-led state Legislature first adopted a voter ID law in 2005, but a federal judge blocked its enforcement saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Early this year, lawmakers amended the law to make the IDs free and to ensure theyare available in each of the state's 159 counties.