Originally created 01/12/06

Voter ID bill gets support of panel



ATLANTA - A new voter ID bill designed to answer a judge's concerns that the law resembles a poll tax moved one step closer on Wednesday to facing a full House vote.

House lawmakers will decide today the fate of a bill that would arm registrars in each of the state's 159 counties with the equipment to issue photo IDs, which would-be voters must present to cast their ballots. The bill also offers the ID cards for free for those who can't afford them.

The proposal moved easily through the powerful House Rules Committee despite protests from Democrats questioning the motive behind the bill.

"Show me the beef. Show me where the case study is. Show me the fraud," cried state Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Columbus Democrat. "We're passing legislation by osmosis. We're contending something is there."

House Republicans could not cite specific instances of voter fraud at the polls, but contended the bill would add another layer of security.

"One thing I know for sure is if we pass the bill, we'll have better security at the polls than we do today," said House Majority Whip Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.

The voter ID bill requirements, which passed last year despite a walkout staged by some House Democrats, eliminated the use of some forms of identification to vote, including Social Security cards, birth certificates and utility bills.

In October, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked enforcement of the law, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax and was not tailored narrowly enough to serve its stated purpose of preventing voter fraud.

In response to those concerns, the new proposal would spend about $150,000 to outfit all of Georgia's counties with equipment to create the photo IDs using software similar to the programs that retail stores use to make membership cards. It also would offer poor people free cards, which could otherwise cost as much as $35.

But critics say even with the changes, the new bill won't withstand a legal challenge. Emmet J. Bondurant, one of the attorneys that challenged the bill in court, contended that the bill conflicts with the state constitution by limiting who can vote.