Originally created 12/20/05

Breakdowns, low interest plague old photo ID bus



ATLANTA - A state bus that was intended to make it easier for people to get photo identifications to vote under a controversial law has had three breakdowns and issued far fewer IDs than expected.

The bus - called Georgia Licensing on Wheels - is the state's much-promoted tool to make obtaining a photo ID card easier in the face of stinging opposition to a new law that would require it at the polls.

When it was announced by Gov. Sonny Perdue's office in August, officials said the bus could issue up to 200 ID cards a day. But in three months of traveling across the state, the aging bus has broken down three times and issued only 471 photo IDs. That is fewer than 11 per county visited.

Critics say the low numbers show that one 15-year-old bus is an inadequate response to concerns that the law will disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters. But Mr. Perdue says the numbers show ID cards for voting are not in great demand.

"The bus breaking down is a perfect metaphor," said Neil Bradley, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. "The bus has always been a public relations ploy and isn't an effective remedy for anything. And the numbers really establish that."

Mr. Bradley is one of the lawyers arguing in court that requiring Georgians to show picture identification when voting violates the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But a Perdue spokeswoman said the low numbers at bus stops speak for themselves.

"There are more than 7 million people in the state of Georgia who are legally old enough to vote and have a valid ID," said Heather Hedrick. "Only 3.2 million of them voted in the 2004 elections. Four-hundred seventy-one IDs in three months suggests that the vast, overwhelming majority of people who want to vote in Georgia already have valid IDs."

In October, U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy temporarily suspended enforcement of the voter ID law, saying the $20 fee amounted to an unlawful poll tax.

He will issue a full decision on the law later.

In his ruling, Judge Murphy said that 159 counties is a lot for one bus to cover and that its appearances have been inadequately publicized.

He also said the bus is not handicapped accessible.

The bus has broken down three times in the past three months, according to state records. Appearances in rural Pulaski and Wilcox counties had to be rescheduled because of leaky hoses, while a bad alternator caused the rescheduling of a stop in Statesboro.

In early December, the battery was having problems, causing the bus to get a late start in Cherokee County.