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Black Lawmakers Plan to Fight Georgia Voter ID Law

African-American lawmakers entering Georgia’s 2006 legislative session Jan. 9 are poised for a battle to repeal a law passed last year requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

“I’m putting on the armor,” Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan told the Associated Press. “Nothing they can do will fix the bill. It’s a bad law and it needs to be repealed.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
The 2005 law requires voters who do not have a driver’s license to buy a state-issued ID card. Critics say it burdens the poor, elderly, minorities and people in rural areas.
 
Republican lawmakers intend to defend the law. It gained approval of the U.S. Justice Department–a step required by the Voting Rights Act in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Georgia and certain other states with histories of voter discrimination based on race.
 
But a federal judge blocked it from being implemented in time for the November election, comparing the ID requirement to a poll tax, a law used to keep poor, black people from voting before being abolished decades ago.
 
Sen. Cecil Staton, sponsor of the bill in the State Senate, says he is willing to amend the law, including giving the ID cards away for free, but he maintains the bill is needed to cut down on voter fraud.
 
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to show they are who they say they are when they come to vote in Georgia,” Staton, a businessman whose titles include president and CEO of Smyth & Helwys, a religious publishing house that produces books and curriculum for many moderate Baptist churches, told the Macon Telegraph.
 
Members of Georgia’s Legislative Black Caucus, which strongly opposed the bill last year, say they will fight anything short of repeal. They are supported by several groups.
 
The AARP of Georgia includes opposition to the voter bill among its legislative agenda for 2006.
 
Georgia’s League of Women Voters is working to educate voters about the law and contend it is unconstitutional.     
 
The American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also oppose the law.
 
An estimated 300,000 voting-age people in Georgia don’t have a driver’s license.
 
Last August the governor’s office set up a Georgia License on Wheels (GLOW) bus to make it easier for the elderly, poor and people in rural areas to get a voter ID card.
 
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the bus was supposed to issue up to 200 cards a day, but in its first three months had broken down three times and issued a total of 471 voter IDs–fewer than 11 per county visited.
 
Critics of the voter ID bill said that proved the GLOW bus is nothing more than a publicity stunt.
 
Supporters said it shows there is a lack of demand for photo IDs, suggesting that most people who want to vote already have one.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
 
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