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Georgia closer to making voters show photo IDs

| Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

ATLANTA -- After several hours of at-times racially charged debate, Georgia's Senate approved a bill Tuesday requiring voters to provide photo identification.

The bill, expected to become law, would require voters to have a driver's license, military ID or state-issued identification card with a photo. The measure removes several forms of ID currently accepted, including Social Security cards, birth certificates and utility bills.

The legislation passed 32-22, largely along party lines, with only one Republican voting against it.

The bill must return to the House for a vote on minor Senate changes. Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, who must sign the bill into law, has said he supports it.

Supporters said the bill is an effort to crack down on voter fraud.

Sen. Cecil Staton, a Republican, said critics are unfair to compare the bill to the poll taxes of the segregation-era South. He said efforts are about protecting the constitutional right to vote.

Critics have argued that the bill would disenfranchise the poor, the elderly and minorities, who are less likely to have driver's licenses. They also claim the effort, by majority Republicans, would make voting more difficult for blocs that don't tend to support the GOP.

"This is not about voter identification but, rather, a voter-constriction bill," said Sen. Ed Harbison, a Democrat. "This ultimately will have a chilling effect."

The bill must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department before it can take effect. Georgia -- like other states with a segregationist past -- must obtain federal approval for any change in voting laws.

The Justice Department approved the same bill last year. A federal judge, however, blocked that measure, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Most voters who didn't already have approved identification would have had to pay $35 for a state ID card.

This year's bill, however, would waive the $35 fee and would give counties equipment to issue ID cards.

The debate yesterday, which took up virtually all of a seven-hour Senate session, failed to reach the highly emotional level of last year's debate. One senator brandished shackles, saying the effort reminded him of slavery, and black Democrats led a walkout after the vote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, voters in 21 other states are asked to show identification before voting. In six states -- Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota -- voters must show photo IDs; the 15 other states accept other forms of identification.

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