Question: What does writing a check at the grocery store, renting a movie at the video store, boarding an airplane and voting in the upcoming elections have in common?
Answer: All require a photo ID.
That’s right, a federal judge ruled last week that Georgia’s photo voter ID law did not impose a significant burden on the right to vote and upheld the law that the legislature passed in 2005.
Hailed by many as one of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation, the photo ID law has remained mostly intact since its beginning even though it has faced significant challenges from the judicial branch.
Last week’s favorable ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy in Rome supersedes and overturns two previous injunctions that had imposed halting enforcement of the law.
Originally passed during the 2005 legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue later that summer, an injunction halting enforcement of the law was issued in October of that year when Judge Murphy declared that it imposed an unconstitutional “poll tax” and did not effectively fight voter fraud. At that time people who did not have a driver’s license were charged a $20 fee to obtain a photo ID at a driver’s license station. Opponents of the law referred to this fee as a “poll tax” and claimed it would deny voting rights to those who could not afford the fee.
During the next session in 2006, the legislature passed a revised version of the photo voter ID law eliminating the fee. The legislature also appropriated money to allow state-issued IDs to be obtained for free and required local registrars to issue the free cards. Even after this action, another injunction was issued halting enforcement of the law.
Later that year a separate lawsuit was filed in Fulton County alleging the law violated the Georgia Constitution by creating an unnecessary step that could prevent minorities, the elderly, the disabled and the poor from going to the polls.
After the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit should be dismissed and that the requirement did not violate the Georgia Constitution, Judge Murphy agreed to hold a trial last month on the ongoing federal lawsuit.
Among those filing suit against the law were the League of Women Voters of Georgia, the NAACP, Common Cause/Georgia, other groups and two individuals. However, in trying to prove that the law violates the right to vote because it is an extra and unnecessary burden for voters, the group was unable to come up with the name of a single individual that had been harmed by the law.
The state, on the other hand, was able to prove that they had gone to great lengths to educate potential voters of the photo ID requirement. In ruling for the new law, Judge Murphy cited efforts by the Secretary of State’s office to send out 250,000 letters, buying hundreds of radio spots, setting up a hotline and Web site and training election officials and poll workers in the 23 counties with elections in September of this year.
Now that it is completed, a couple of things are certain. First of all, the two year process that we have witnessed with photo voter ID is a perfect example of how our government is balanced between the executive, judicial and legislative branches and shows that the wisdom of our forefathers is ever visible today.
Secondly, whether you agree or disagree with this new law, one thing is for certain — photo ID — don’t go to vote without it.