The complicated history of the voter ID law in Georgia

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A spate of voter identification laws in more than 30 states across the country has touched off a heated partisan showdown — a fight that involves the tempestuous mix of racial politics, accusations of voter fraud and the high stakes 2012 general election.

But in Georgia, which has one of the oldest and strictest voter ID laws, six years into the experiment in requiring additional identification to vote, the reviews are mixed.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office points out that the laws have survived multiple legal challenges—including last year’s Georgia Supreme Court’s 6-1 decision upholding the law—and that more minority voters have participated in elections since the laws were implemented.

“Georgia’s got a very well-written law. In essence it is impossible for a person to have an issue,” said Michael O’Sullivan, a spokesperson for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, “We’ve got a very good program where we think everybody is able to participate in the process and no one is left out.”

For example, in the 2004 general election, prior to the law’s passage, 834,000 African Americans cast ballots, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. During the 2008 elections, notable because of Barack Obama’s historic candidacy, 1.2 million African-Americans voted.

During the 2006 midterm elections, the same year the Georgia Senate enacted the law, 513,700 African Americans voted. In 2010, the same ear a Tea-Party backed push helped the GOP win control of the U.S. House, 741,00 African Americans voted.

Minority groups in Georgia argue that the law has suppressed votes, and that those voters’ voices aren’t being heard. In last year’s Georgia State Supreme Court case, the lone dissent came from Justice Robert Benham, the first African-American elected to the post.

“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,” Justice Benham wrote. “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.”

Minority groups, like the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, say they’ve seen the disenfranchisement firsthand. During the 2010 elections, group officials say they were forced to drive voters who didn’t have IDs to local elections offices to get the
problem cleared up, and then drive them back to their polling sites.

“Certainly what we have seen…borne out in Georgia is that African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities have been disproportionately affected,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, “What we want is to make sure of is that nobody is denied their right to vote.”

The debate over voter ID laws is a political drama that pits many Republican governors and state lawmakers, along with the Republican National Convention, against some of their Democratic colleagues. It is also a battle that has reached the ranks of the U.N. Human Rights Council and may wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thirty two states, including Georgia, have enacted voting identification laws, ranging from legislation requiring photo identification to cast a ballot to those allowing some other sort of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Follow Grio contributor Halimah Abdullah on Twitter @HAbdullahdcnews