The same federal judge who threw out Georgia’s voter ID law last year blocked the state Wednesday from enforcing its revised law during this year’s elections.
The ruling came down less than two hours after the Georgia Supreme Court denied the state’s emergency request to overrule a state court order that blocked enforcement of the new photo ID law during next week’s primary elections and any runoffs.
If the rulings stand, Georgia voters will not have to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. The state’s primary elections are scheduled for Tuesday, and the general elections are Nov. 7.
U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy said the state’s latest attempt at requiring voter photo IDs discriminated against people who don’t have driver’s licenses, passports or other government IDs.
“That is the failure of this legislation as it stands at this time,” he said.
State officials said they’re simply trying to prevent election fraud.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Dan McLagan, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, declined to speculate on what the state’s next step might be, though he said it was unlikely any court action at this point would affect Tuesday’s primaries. “We’ll continue to champion this commonsense law,” McLagan said.
The Legislature adopted a stringent voter ID requirement in 2005, but it was blocked by Murphy, who said it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. During this year’s session, the law was amended to make the IDs free.
Critics have argued that voter fraud in Georgia stems from absentee ballot voting, an issue not addressed by the voter ID law.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the AARP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund had asked Murphy to stop the state from advising voters or elections officials that voters cannot cast a ballot without one of the state-approved IDs.
In that case, the state’s top elections official testified Wednesday that about 675,000 of the state’s 4.26 million registered voters have neither a Georgia driver license nor state identification.
Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox testified that her agency cross-referenced state voter rolls against records from the Georgia Department of Driver Services in hopes of alerting people who lacked IDs. Plans for a direct-mail campaign were scrapped, however, because the agency couldn’t afford it.
Cox called the photo ID requirement “an additional step that someone has to go through. To some extent, that could be a deterrent to fraud.” But she added that it is hard to say whether that would deter them from voting.