ATLANTA - An oft-challenged Georgia law that requires voters to show photo identification before they cast their ballots was again upheld Wednesday, this time by a federal appeals panel.
The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected critics' attempt to block the law, concluding that concerns about the new requirements are "outweighed by the interests of Georgia in safeguarding the right to vote."
It comes after a series of federal and state judges have upheld the voter ID law or refused to stop it from taking effect.
The Georgia Democratic Party has long tried to block the law, claiming it places an undue burden on the poor, disabled people and minorities. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which filed this challenge, also claims the state never proved a valid reason for the new requirements.
State elections officials say the law helps prevent voter fraud and are quick to note that some 5 million residents cast ballots this year with the new restrictions in place.
The law, first enacted at the urging of Republican leaders in 2005, has been in effect since a federal judge in September 2007 said it passed constitutional muster. The U.S. Supreme Court has since upheld a similar photo ID law in Indiana.
Democrats and other critics filed a flurry of lawsuits challenging the requirements in the run-up to the November election, but judges refused to block the law from taking effect.
The federal challenge was filed by Eugene Taylor and Bertha Barrett Young, Georgia residents who don't have driver's licenses. They claimed the law treats them unfairly because it would force them to make a special trip to the county registrar's to get a photo ID.
The NAACP said that between 289,000 and 505,000 voters lacked a driver's license and argued it was "implausible" that all of them would have another form of approved ID.
But the panel of U.S. Court of Appeals Judges Stanley Birch and William Pryor and U.S. District Judge Lyle Strom said the argument fails, mainly because both the plaintiffs testified they could get free photo identification "with little difficulty."
"The NAACP and voters, despite their best efforts, failed to identify a single individual who would be unable to vote because of the Georgia statute or who would face an undue burden to obtain a free voter identification card," the court concluded.
Edward DuBose, president of the NAACP's Georgia chapter, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Secretary of State Karen Handel issued a statement praising the decision as the "latest confirmation of Georgia's common-sense photo ID requirement."