Georgia Supreme Court upholds state voter ID law

To no one’s surprise, the state Supreme Court this morning announced this morning that, in a 6-to-1 decision, it has upheld the Georgia law requiring voters to show valid photo ID at the polls.

Justice Robert Benham, the first African-American elected to the high court bench, issued the lone dissent.

Read the decision here. From the court summary:

“As did virtually every other court that considered this issue, we find the photo ID requirement as implemented in the 2006 Act to be a minimal, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory restriction which is warranted by the important regulatory interests of preventing voter fraud,” Justice Hugh Thompson writes in today’s 23-page majority opinion.

Before 1998, Georgia voters were not required to present any form of identification as a condition for voting. After 1998 and until 2005, voters could cast their ballots at the polls if they showed one of 17 forms of identification, including a utility bill or Social Security card, or signed an affidavit swearing to their identity. If a voter stated certain reasons why he or she could not come to the polls, the voter could submit an absentee ballot by mail.

With the Photo ID Acts of 2005 and 2006, the legislature amended the voting laws by requiring that voters bring to the polls one of six forms of government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license. At the same time, the changes made it easier for voters to cast absentee ballots by eliminating the requirement they provide a reason before doing so.

In 2005, some groups sued the state in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on grounds that the photo requirement violated voters’ rights under the U.S. Constitution. The District Court ruled the State could not enforce the act because, among other things, it imposed a poll tax in violation of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The defendants then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit. While that was pending, the Georgia Legislature passed the 2006 Act with identical photo ID requirements to the 2005 Act. The major difference, however, was that the fee was eliminated under the 2006 law that had been charged under the 2005 law for the ID card given to those voters who showed up to vote without an acceptable photo ID.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s photo ID law, concluding that it imposed no undue burden on voters. In 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in favor of Georgia officials and determined that the District Court “did not err when it determined that the legitimate interest of Georgia in preventing voter fraud justified the insignificant burden of requiring voters to present photo identification before they vote in person.”

This appeal involves a lawsuit brought in 2008 by the state Democratic Party against former Gov. Sonny Perdue, former Sec. of State Karen Handel and the State Election Board. Unlike previous lawsuits, this one challenged the voter ID requirement on the ground that it violated rights guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution.

In 2010, a Fulton County judge again upheld Georgia’s 2006 Photo ID Act as an “evenhanded restriction” designed to protect the “integrity and reliability of the electoral process.” The Party then appealed to the Supreme Court.

“We conclude that no voter is disenfranchised by the 2006 Act, and the Act does not violate Article II, Section I, Part III of the Georgia Constitution,” today’s majority opinion says. The Constitution states that any citizen 18 or older “who meets minimum residency requirements as provided by law shall be entitled to vote at any election by the people.” It also states that the “General Assembly shall provide by law for the registration of electors.”

“Although the right to vote guaranteed by our Constitution cannot be ‘absolutely denied or taken away by legislative enactment, the legislature has the right to prescribe reasonable regulations as to how these qualifications shall be determined,” says today’s opinion, quoting the high court’s 1949 decision in Franklin v.Harper.

The majority concludes that the 2006 Act “does not deprive any Georgia voter from casting a ballot in any election.” A voter who lacks a photo ID and wants to vote in person may obtain a free voter ID. Or, a voter may cast a provisional ballot and have the vote counted upon presentation of photo ID within 48 hours. Finally, a person may vote by absentee ballot, which requires no photo ID at all.

The photo ID requirement has already been used in 15 elections during 2007 and 2008 “without problems and voter turnout has not been suppressed,” the opinion says.

Justice Robert Benham dissents. Following a quote by Susan B. Anthony, he writes: “This country has a long history of denying the franchise to certain groups of citizens-non-property owners, members of certain religions, African-Americans, women, Native Americans, young adults aged 18 to 21, etc. It is unfortunate that over the course of the last 13 years, this State has placed ever increasing restrictions on its citizens’ ability to cast regular, non-provisional ballots at their local polling precincts.”

He argues that “obtaining the ‘free’ voter identification card is actually more burdensome than registering to vote,” due to the amount of documentation a person must provide. And voting by absentee ballot deprives a person of “the right to be among one’s fellow citizens at the polling precinct and to openly exercise his or her right to participate in a democracy.”

“Citizens at the margins of our society (i.e., the poor, infirm, and elderly) are still effectively being disenfranchised in the name of the government’s purported interest in preventing voting frauds that have not been proven to occur at any rate of significance,” Justice Benham writes in the dissent. “As such, I must respectfully disagree with the majority opinion in this case.”

Attorneys for Appellant (Democratic party): Emmet Bondurant, David Brackett, Jason Carter

Attorneys for Appellee (Gov. Perdue): Thurbert Baker, Attorney General, Dennis Dunn, Dep. A.G., Stefan Ritter, Sr. Asst. A.G., Mark Cohen, Special Asst. A.G., Anne Lewis, Special Asst. A.G.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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48 comments Add your comment

the mehlman rings twice

March 7th, 2011
8:27 am

Every liberal and consevative should agree with this decision. What Justice Benham doesn’t understand is that today the ability to provide verifiable documentation is much easier than it was say 60 – 70 years ago.

findog

March 7th, 2011
8:33 am

Virtual courts, now there’s a possible savings for our budget
Just add virtual sentences to virtual prisons and we can have more budget cuts
After this it’s just a little virtual education at our virtual schools and soon Georgia can get by with no taxes
I like where this is going
As we are a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP we don’t even need elections, just have the republicans use a secret caucus to present their slate of candidates for coronation

Jon

March 7th, 2011
8:36 am

I have no issue with this law.

Does it mean Repubs will stop blaming every lost election on illegals and dead people now?

WillieRae

March 7th, 2011
8:40 am

Over the past several decades we have made voting easier and easier. It is only logical that we would also institute common sense measures to make sure of the voter’s identity. That’s what we have done and the courts agree.

Port O'John

March 7th, 2011
8:41 am

Whew, another non-issue resolved. There was never massive voter fraud in this state as tte GOP claims. But if they want to keep some old black people from voting, well, majority rules.

Now can we please go back to getting that legislation banning the forced implanting of micro-chips into law? There is another real non-crisis to address.

Tech82

March 7th, 2011
8:41 am

Illegals and dead people will have a much more difficult time voting if they have to show a valid ID (especially the dead people). Of course, this law isn’t in effect in Chicago so that problem won’t be eliminated.

MiltonMan

March 7th, 2011
8:41 am

Justice Benham = idiot. When I was in the military I had to vote via absentee. He is using this to state that it “deprives” people??? Typical liberal.

raymond

March 7th, 2011
8:41 am

The only people who are against this law are those who entertain the idea of deceiving the voting system.

MiltonMan

March 7th, 2011
8:42 am

Jon, what were the numerous excuses the Dems used in losing the last election in GA???

George

March 7th, 2011
8:45 am

Has the voting population of Gwinnett County decreased since this law went into effect? Or can we all agree that there are a lot of illegal aliens running around this county with driver’s licenses that were obtained illegally?

Eubieful O'Sheet

March 7th, 2011
8:57 am

Each time Democrats bring this matter to court they are saying:

“We know our Democrat voters are too (lazy, stupid, ignorant – pick one or more) and/or lack the foresight to plan ahead in order to obtain a free picture ID.”

(But what would one expect from a party that has a long tradition of loading their voters into buses and vans (like cattle) and hauling them off to the polls to vote.)

When the leaders of a political party have that low an opinion of their voters, why would anyone with any measure of pride in oneself ever want to support them?

the mehlman rings twice

March 7th, 2011
9:00 am

I agree with this ruling, but do you really think illegals voting is a big problem in this state? They tend to stay under the radar and not show up in places where their status could be challenged. But if they do show up with a quality fake driver’s license how is that challenged? My question is what keeps a state registrar from “dumping” valid applications and then claiming ignorance? And to you birthers; if Hawaii can issue a false birth certificate, what is to keep Georgia from issueing a false voter ID?

Buzz G

March 7th, 2011
9:03 am

This law is so common sense that it is amazing that this is even controversial. It goes to show the zealotry coming from the left.

Carolyn C.

March 7th, 2011
9:13 am

This law should be the same in ALL 50 States.
NO REASONS SHOULD BE GIVEN !!

A BLACK AMERICAN WOMEN

C.C.

the mehlman rings twice

March 7th, 2011
9:18 am

Ebieful @ 8:57am:
I travel in many circles and you wouldn’t believe both liberal and conservative conspiracies that I hear. In this case, it is amazing how some liberals think that requiring them to perform the basic acts of citizenship is a burden to them.

mark

March 7th, 2011
9:28 am

I am 50 years and live in Cherokee County. I have always had to show my ID whenever I voted. It has never been a problem and I hae never heard anyone object.

Sunny

March 7th, 2011
9:29 am

C.C., did you have to type that in all caps with the exclamation points?

I’ve always taken my ID to the polls for the simple reason I felt that it would be checked to see if it were truly me voting. I don’t think it should be that big of a deal. Besides its quite simple to get a fake ID if someone wants to vote that badly. I highly doubt that the lovely elderly people who volunteer at the polls would be able to spot the difference.

Centrist

March 7th, 2011
9:31 am

I’d like to see a law where only those who paid INCOME tax the previous year be able to vote. It is a great conflict of interest for those who are totally on the government dole to vote for those who pander with tax loopholes, to cheats, and even greater grants to tax avoiders and non-productive citizens.

Standing by for the knee-jerk screamers.

Private Sector

March 7th, 2011
9:33 am

Georgia’s Voter ID is only a microcosm of what is going on across our country. What appears to be “common sense” legislation is really what amounts to drawing battle lines for what will be hotly contested battles in 2012; Wisconsin, North Carolina and New Hampshire.

When Kerry won Wisconsin by 11k votes in 2004, that difference couldve easily been because of the 17k out-of-state University of Wisconsin student population that tends to lean democratic. So is there any wonder that the Republican-led legislature is putting forth a bill to restrict voting to students where their parents have legal residency in that state?

If anyone suggests that this isn’t partisan politics, they know far to little about the issue. Both sides have put forth an effort to turn up the volume on equally-unsubstantiated claims. Restricting or increasing turnout solely on voting behavior is ultimately what all of this is about

Road Scholar

March 7th, 2011
9:33 am

Jon : No!

Milton Man: The Demos agreed they got there butts kicked; which is more admisssion of reality than most Repubs can stand!

All: If you vote by absentee ballot, do you have to show an ID to get/submit the ballot/vote? I thought that they send it to you, you mark it, and send it back. Where is the ID check?

Road Scholar

March 7th, 2011
9:35 am

Centrist: There is a little thing called a Constitution that allows all non felon citizens vote; regardless of party or income!

claytondawg

March 7th, 2011
9:37 am

Finally, a common sense decision. So, why should any question arise here? If there are 17 ways to validate your “presence” in the county of which you live and should vote (and this is a country of choice), how can you not disagree with such a minimal way of proof.

Private Sector

March 7th, 2011
9:39 am

@ Centrist

Tying voting to economics is pure lunacy. But just to ponder your extreme viewpoint, don’t you think taxes would ultimately be raised by those in power to influence the exact level of turnout that would be needed to stay in power.

But on a positive note it would restrict the impact of the Citizens United ruling since most corporations typically pay no taxes

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

March 7th, 2011
9:40 am

Here’s an idea – allow anyone to vote, as many times as they wish….but then…require an IQ Test be administered and passed prior to their ballots actually being counted.

Yep.

The Capn

March 7th, 2011
9:40 am

What I keep failing to see argued by those who support Voter ID (as I do) is that these so-called “burdened” citizens are required to have some sort of official photo ID just to live their basic lives. Many of them have checking accounts or credit cards, presentation of which at many businesses requires identification. Registration for many government services requires positive identification. To claim that this is the ONLY reason to obtain a photo ID is beyond absurd. They cried because they had to pay for one, and I do not see where paying $5-$10 for this ID was burdensome to anyone. But, they won that, so it is now given for FREE. So, what is now the burden? Proving you are who you say you are? That’s not a burden, thats normal life in America. I challenge ANYONE to show me an adult in this country for whom this represented the ONLY time in their life they were required to identify themselves on an official level.

Private Sector

March 7th, 2011
9:46 am

@ Capn

Good points, in the information age it’s hardly a time when we don’t need ID, I guarantee you one needs it even if they cash a check at Wal Mart.

However, because of the financial “burden” you mentioned, it absolutely won’t be free. The state will be on the hook for the cost at the tune of a little over $2 million dollars. There’s a number for the fiscally-conservative tea party members to ponder

the mehlman rings twice

March 7th, 2011
9:53 am

Sunny @ 9:29am:
Correct! Precinct workers cannot spot fake GDLs anyway and illegals who get fake GDLs do not do it for the purpose of voting. As much as I agree with this ruling, I see a solution without much of a problem.

Dirty Dawg

March 7th, 2011
9:55 am

I’ll tell you the ‘excuse’ that Librals Like Me used this last time out – and, frankly, every time since we used the ‘Diebold-Fix’ one in ‘02…greed and prejudice have completely taken over the political landscape and is what drives radical conservatism – a concept that too many Georgians have fallen for. And since is doesn’t seem likely that these folks will come to their senses any time soon, it’ll probably stay this way for the foreseeable future.

RoscoeMM

March 7th, 2011
10:15 am

How to commit voter fraud in Georgia -

Use the absentee ballot – no id required.

or

Vote on an electronic voting machine – absolutely no verifiable proof that the vote cast is the vote reported. The Diebold conspiracy (”I’ll do anything to get Bush elected”) lives!

Centrist

March 7th, 2011
10:19 am

@ Road Scholar – absentee voters have to have registered with an address showing an ID and a signature. Absentee ballots are only sent to the registered address after the application signature is verified to match.

The Constitution has often been changed about who gets to vote. It is past time for another change now that such a large portion of our electorate does not pay income taxes, and many actually government dependents.

Benham just shut up.

March 7th, 2011
10:21 am

There’s nothing wrong with showing an ID or would you prefer Africans to be allowed to drive without one? Open a bank account without one? Cash a check without one? Why don’t you come into the NON-racist world Judge and get a real life.

What'z up

March 7th, 2011
10:34 am

And voting by absentee ballot deprives a person of “the right to be among one’s fellow citizens at the polling precinct and to openly exercise his or her right to participate in a democracy.”

Translation: can’t hand someone a sample ballot and tell them to “vote this way” when someone votes absentee.

What'z up

March 7th, 2011
10:39 am

Private Sector
March 7th, 2011
9:46 am

@ Capn

However, because of the financial “burden” you mentioned, it absolutely won’t be free. The state will be on the hook for the cost at the tune of a little over $2 million dollars. There’s a number for the fiscally-conservative tea party members to ponder

Let us ponder…5.8 million votes/$2 million = .30 cents per registered voter. Pondering complete.

GaBlue

March 7th, 2011
10:41 am

I watched a 90-yr-old veteran get turned away at my voting place in November, though he was indeed registered there. Fumbling through his wallet, he pulled out his voter card and all sorts of official documents to verify his identity, but, having not had a drivers’ license in years, did not have anything the poll workers could accept. They seemed more upset than he did. I was angry, but dared not say so because… well, freedom of speech is often confused with disturbing the peace, an arrestable offense, in Republi-fascist states like Georgia.

Centrist

March 7th, 2011
11:10 am

GaBlue – had I been in line behind you wearing my brown shirt and black jackboots and you complained, I would have pulled out my Luger and shot you on the spot.

Saying something to poll workers who are following the law would have been useless – but the only way you would have been disturbing the peace is if you were loud, argumentative, or making political statements in a polling place. Your argument sounds false.

I forgot my wallet when I last voted – so had to go home to get it. The gentlemen you mentioned could have done the same unless he had similar problems in the past and had not easily remedied it with:

* Georgia driver’s license, even if expired
* ID card issued by the state of Georgia or the federal government
* Free voter ID card issued by the state or county
* U.S. passport
* Valid employee ID card containing a photograph from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state
* Valid U.S. military identification card
* Valid tribal photo ID

Brainiac

March 7th, 2011
11:22 am

@Jon………..If you will go back and check the past several election numbers you will notice that nobody blamed anything on illegalls and/or minorities. Obviously there haven’t been that many close votes in Georgia lately and this blog is specifically about Georgia. Get a life, get a job, open your closed mine, take a bath and above all move north and take King Roy Barnes(Ex-King that is) with you. When a Republican with as much baggage as Nathan Deal can clobber your candidate in a landslide election then he is probably looking for new locations.

GaBlue

March 7th, 2011
11:28 am

Centrist,

EXCUSE ME? Your threats of violence do not give credence to your statement. I said NOTHING. I merely related to this forum what I observed, and my understanding, that YOU just confirmed, that freedom of expression is not an option.

The fact is, many elderly are disenfranchised by this requirement, and the FACT is, the people who made the rule don’t care.

Do you feel like a BIG man threatening me with yoru LUGER? F****** CREEP!

jconservative

March 7th, 2011
11:33 am

When are they going to let us vote online?

GaBlue

March 7th, 2011
11:34 am

Is it even legal to carry a firearm into a polling place? “CENTRIST” threatens to kill fellow voters in a polling place on election day if they dare to give utterance, but what are the odds I’d be denied entry if I were wearing my Green Day America Idiot t-shirt?

The Capn

March 7th, 2011
11:38 am

@Private Sector & Whatz Up:

Why isn’t that considered a Poll Tax on those of us who actually pay taxes and vote?

Let the Big Dawg Eat

March 7th, 2011
11:43 am

Ga Blue is absolutely correct. The elderly, among many other groups, are disenfranchised by this law. It’s all a part of the right’s effort to obtain control and keep it. Additional examples include the assault on unions, and the US Supreme Court’s award of First Amendment rights to corporations, permitting high priced, targeted campaigns against any candidate who attempts to advance the interests of people deemed enemies by the corporate aristocracy. It’s all very said that in “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” we will all soon be carrying the water for the corporate fat cats.

Centrist

March 7th, 2011
12:18 pm

GaBlue – I don’t think you get sarcasm. Try to ignore the Luger sentence and maybe “Let the Big Dawg Read” will also see it is very easy to obtain a photo ID that 8 other states also require (more coming).

Even illegal aliens can register and vote with the “motor voter” law which, of course, was the intent of Democrats.

Last Man Standing

March 7th, 2011
12:21 pm

The voter ID law was made to insure that only legal residents of the state meeting all other requirements would be the only people voting in Georgia. Anyone meeting all the necessary criteria who is disenfranchised suffers fate that due to their own ignorance of the law or their failiure to comply with it.

Lum

March 7th, 2011
12:38 pm

Sounds like Justice Benham has race on his mind more than law.

theodore

March 7th, 2011
12:51 pm

re: Justice Robert Benham: “the right to be among one’s fellow citizens at the polling precinct and to openly exercise his or her right to participate in a democracy.”

I may be wrong, but I think Justice Benham is saying that the laws outlawing campaigning within a certain distance of the polling places are unconstitutional.

re: Let the Big Dawg Eat”. Don’t you think that the elderly among many other groups are allowed to vote absentee? If they can physically get to the polling place to cast their vote, which barring having been convicted of a felony (or any other disenfranchising crime,) they certainly have the right to do, then I see no reason that they can’t also get to the DMV (or whatever they’re called) to get an “i want to vote” ID. The only thing that would prevent some people from getting ID’s is that the various ‘get out the vote’ groups would probably balk at having to bus everyone to the DMV two months before the election, and then bus them to the election.

picture perfect

March 7th, 2011
4:11 pm

I never understood the opposition to this law. There are things that we have to furnish identification for, like buying cigarettes and alcohol and applying for a drivers license. The only reason someone would oppose providing proof of identity at a polling place is that they intend to cheat.

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