Originally created 09/09/06

Judge might throw out law



ATLANTA - A judge being asked to throw out Georgia's photo ID requirement for voters showed uneasiness about the law from the bench Friday as he heard arguments in support of the measure from the state's attorneys.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. didn't rule at the end of the hearing and didn't say when he might issue a decision, but he was clearly concerned the law might be a burden on some voters.

The hearing was part of the latest effort by former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes and others to block enforcement of the law, which took effect July 1 and was enforced for the first time this past week in early balloting for a special election Tuesday in Twiggs County.

Judge Bedford asked the state's attorneys to explain how requiring a voter to take the extra step of obtaining government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot serves the public interest.

"I'm struggling with that. That's bothering me, that one step," the judge said. "That might be, arguably, a burden on the right to vote. ... The problem here is that the state is putting the burden on the voter."

Attorney Mark Cohen, who was representing the state, responded that it is reasonable to ask voters to prove their identity, a step necessary to prevent voter fraud. He told the judge that all eligible voters are still free to vote absentee without having to present a photo ID.

"There is no right to vote any particular way in this state," Mr. Cohen said. "That's completely at the discretion of the legislature."

Mr. Barnes, a private attorney from Marietta, said in-person voting is a preference for many people in Georgia, especially those who might need help with the process, including the elderly, disabled, poor and illiterate - the same groups most likely not to carry a driver's license or other valid photo ID. Also, no one is allowed to vote absentee on election day in Georgia.

"This case is common sense," Mr. Barnes told the judge. "The people of this state have guaranteed the right to vote. Create games like this and, I will tell you, it is the destruction of the very base of our democracy."

Judge Bedford is hearing the case for the first time after two other judges - one in state court, the other in federal court - in July barred the state from enforcing the law or educating voters about it during the July 18 primary and Aug. 8 runoff elections.

Judge Bedford could factor in how his ruling would affect a pending challenge to the law in federal court. On Wednesday, groups opposed to the law also asked a federal judge to block its enforcement during about 20 special municipal elections in the state Sept. 19 and the general elections Nov. 7.