What if you had an election and one in seven voters couldn't cast a ballot?
That's the scenario Georgia may face July 18, when the state is scheduled to implement its controversial voter ID restrictions -- despite having less than three weeks to issue as many as 676,000 ID cards.
Last Thursday, the Republican-controlled State Election Board decided to plow ahead with requiring voters to show some form of government-issued photo ID in the upcoming primaries, even though not a single new voter ID card had yet been issued and few efforts had been made to educate voters about the new system.
Many critics of the new law tag it as an attempt by Republicans to keep a large segment of likely Democratic voters away from the polls. If the courts suspend the law before the primary elections (no decision had been reached at press time), it could still be put into effect by the general elections in November when Republicans and Democrats go head-to-head.
According to a recent estimate by Secretary of State Cathy Cox, 676,000 registered voters lack either a driver's license or other form of photo ID required by the new law, a figure that represents nearly 14 percent of all Georgia voters and includes fully one-third of black voters over 65.
The short lead-time for the primary has even Chuck Clay, an ex-state GOP chief, worried that tens of thousands of voters may not be able to get their state-issued IDs in time. Clay, a former state legislator and board member of Common Cause Georgia, has his doubts that the state can put ID cards in the hands of voters before the primaries. "If the Election Board can't do it in the time allotted, it shouldn't do it half-way," Clay says. "If we're going to require ID cards to vote, the state is obligated to make sure those cards are available to eligible voters who need them."
At its Thursday session, the Election Board decided to run radio spots leading up to the primaries to announce the new requirement rather than send letters to voters.
That move didn't surprise Jennifer Owens, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, who says the state has shown little concern over the prospect that thousands of poor and elderly voters could be effectively disenfranchised by the implementation of the voter ID law.
"If you take the estimated 676,000 potentially affected voters and match it to the $211,000 in state funds set aside for voter education, it comes out to less than the price of a postage stamp per voter," she says.
Voters without photo ID will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which will only be counted if they return with a state-issued ID card within 48 hours. Owens says that's not a realistic time frame. "If you had to apply for your birth certificate in order to get the state ID, that can't be done in 48 hours."
William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, notes that the majority of potentially disenfranchised voters tend to vote Democratic.
"If these estimates are correct," he says, "it certainly lends strength to the argument that the object of the voter ID law is to suppress the vote."
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