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