November will be a test of Voter ID law

Columbus reports no problems implementing the Georgia law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, but the real test is yet to come.

Initially passed in 2005 and later amended to comply with court rulings noting its constitutional complications, the Georgia law so far has been in effect for only two local elections — last November's referendum on giving local taxing authorities special redevelopment powers to establish "tax allocation districts" or TADs, and this past February's presidential preference primary.

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling 6-3 Monday that a similar law in Indiana is constitutional gives proponents hope that Georgia's photo ID law can withstand further court scrutiny.

The law still is being challenged by critics who say it disenfranchises poor and elderly voters who are less likely to have photo IDs and more likely to vote for Democrats. Republican legislators pushed the law through after contentious debates with Democrats.

So far no mass of poor or elderly voters has been turned away at the polls locally for lacking proper identification, said Muscogee elections director Nancy Boren. She said her office so far has issued only a few dozen of the voter IDs the state legislature made free in 2006 after a federal judge said Georgia's 2005 law charging residents for them amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.

But this November the law will get its first real test: a presidential election in which the turnout likely will be "historic," Boren said.

Columbus' turnout for February's presidential preference primary was 42 percent. Statewide the turnout was a record 44 percent. But a presidential election brings out many, many more — 72 percent in Columbus in 2004; 67 percent in 2000.

With no incumbent seeking re-election and Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton still fighting over the Democratic nomination to see who will face Republican John McCain, Boren expects even more interest in this election.

"Definitely this year, I think, is going to break past records, because it's such a race, with so many different dynamics," she said.

The six forms of photo ID now allowed under Georgia law are a Georgia driver's license, a valid ID issued by a state or federal government agency, a passport, a government worker ID, a U.S. military ID or an American Indian tribal ID card, Boren said.

Before the photo ID law took effect, 17 forms of identification were accepted, including any worker ID issued by an employer, any student ID (student IDs from state schools still are acceptable), a license to carry a pistol, a pilot's license, a birth certificate, a Social Security card, a certified naturalization document, court records showing adoption, name or sex change, a utility bill showing the address, a bank statement with address, a government check or paycheck with address or other government document.

An odd twist to state and federal election laws is this: Because of the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, a voter who registered for the first time by mail must be allowed to show certain forms of non-photo ID at the polls, Boren said. Those include a current utility bill showing the voter's address, a current bank statement with the address, a government check or paycheck with the address or other valid government document bearing the voter's name and address, she said.