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 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.
U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy's ruling, which he delivered verbally from the bench, was much broader, also including the Nov. 7 general elections and any runoffs.
If the rulings stand, Georgia voters will not have to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot this year. The state's primary election - which would have been the first election for which the IDs were required - is scheduled for Tuesday. The general elections are Nov. 7.
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," he said.
The judge last October rejected a more stringent voter ID requirement, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax because of the fees associated with getting the required ID. The Legislature this year passed a new law that made the IDs free and available in all counties.
Murphy commended lawmakers for addressing problems with the previous version but said more work is needed. The latest version still denies citizens equal protection under the law, he said.
"The court never said there cannot be a proper voter ID law," he said.
Appeal prospects unknown
Mark Cohen, the state's lead attorney, declined to comment on whether the state would appeal. Unless the ruling is reversed, Murphy's injunction will remain in place through the November runoff elections.
Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and other supporters of the IDs had argued they were needed to prevent election fraud. Civil rights groups challenged the law in both federal and state court, arguing that it discriminated against poor, elderly and rural voters. They also argued that voter fraud in Georgia stems from absentee ballot voting, an issue not even addressed by the law.
"They have chosen deliberately to legislate only in an area where there was no problem," Emmett Bondurant, the critics' lead attorney, told Murphy in court.
Cohen argued that Georgia must restore confidence in the election system.
"The public in general in this country has a great distrust for the voting system," he said. "People are questioning whether voting is going on properly."
He also said the law does not deny Georgians the right to vote, because voters may cast an absentee ballot.
On July 7, a county judge issued a temporary order blocking Georgia from enforcing the voter ID law in the primary and any runoffs.
The Supreme Court's decision pertained only to that order and does not prevent the case from coming before the high court again.