ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court has denied the state's emergency request to overrule a court order that blocks enforcement of Georgia's new voter photo ID law during next week's primaries.
U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy was hearing the civil rights groups' motion less than a week before the new law would apply for the first time at the polls.
Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox testified that her agency cross-referenced state voter rolls against records from the Georgia Department of Driver Services to establish that 675,000 of the state's 4.26 million registered voters don't have the proper ID to vote.
She said her office did it in hopes of alerting people who lacked IDs, but plans for a direct-mail campaign were scrapped because the agency couldn't afford it.
Cox called the photo ID requirement "an additional step that someone has to go through. To some extent, that could be a deterrent to fraud." But she added that it is hard to say whether that would deter them from voting.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the AARP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are asking Murphy to stop the state from advising voters or elections officials that voters cannot cast a ballot without one of the state-approved IDs.
On July 7, a Fulton County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking Georgia from enforcing the voter ID law in the July 18 primary elections. The ruling was appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which had not ruled by Wednesday on the issue.
The objections raised in the federal case differ from those raised in state court, where opponents say it is beyond the powers of the Legislature to establish a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID as a qualification to vote.
The state counters in its motion that Georgia "has a legitimate interest in preventing the potential for in-person voter fraud, regardless of how many actual instances of fraud have come to light." Critics have argued that the voter fraud problem in Georgia stems from absentee ballot voting, an issue not addressed by the voter ID law.
The Legislature adopted a stringent voter ID requirement in 2005, but it was blocked by a federal judge who said it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. During this year's session, the law was amended to make the IDs free.