- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

A new voter-identification law in Georgia that recently was approved by the Justice Department has angered civil rights groups, which say it will disenfranchise blacks, the elderly and rural voters.

State legislators said the new law requiring voters to present a photo identification, such as a driver’s license or a state school ID, will prevent voter fraud and keep noncitizens from voting.

“We just thought that it was a common-sense measure, given a pattern of voter fraud over time in Georgia,” said state Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens, a Republican. “Our existing law that was in place allowed for 17 different forms of so-called ‘identification.’”

Mr. Stephens cited investigations showing numerous instances of voter fraud, including a 1998 state Senate election in which election officials “miraculously” discovered 151 previously uncounted ballots three days after the Democratic incumbent was defeated.

Black lawmakers and civil rights organizations decried the measure as something that will hurt black voters and as a Republican strategy to maintain majority control of state legislatures.

“It is a national scheme to keep people from voting,” said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a Democrat and president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. The organization of more than 800 officials walked out of the Statehouse to protest the bill’s passage.

In drafting the legislation, Republicans ignored the absentee-ballot process “where the real fraud is,” Mr. Brooks said. “Republicans turn out a huge portion of their vote through absentee ballots, and it has become a mechanism to drive up their vote.”

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia Republican and the former state Senate majority leader, said there is no such scheme and that the state has been trying to institute a photo-ID requirement for years.

The law got its first test in Gwinnett County on Tuesday when a special election was held for state House District 106.

“We had no provisional ballots used at all, and we did not have any ID problems, either,” said Lynn Ledford, Gwinnett County elections supervisor.

However, Mrs. Ledford said the ID requirement will not do much to stop illegal aliens from voting because they easily can obtain a driver’s license with utility bills as proof of residency. She said an issue that needs to be addressed is allowing students who attend private colleges in the state to use their school IDs to vote.

“Speaking as a voter, the private-school portion is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I think if it is a picture ID and it is officially given by the school, we should be able to accept that,” Mrs. Ledford said.

Mr. Westmoreland agreed, saying the issue was a “legitimate” concern that lawmakers should work to fix.

“There has to be a way where the private schools, maybe when students register for school, provide for them a way to get a state ID,” he said, urging the state to help in that process.

Twenty-two states require some form of ID from all voters at the polls, according to a report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven of the 22 — Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota — require photo IDs, but each state has various identification standards and requirements.

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