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ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a state law requiring voters to show identification before they cast ballots, dismissing objections from Democrats who contended lawmakers had no proof when they approved the new rules that anyone had tried to vote illegally.
The court's 6-1 decision found that no voter has been disenfranchised by the 2006 law, despite claims by the Democratic Party of Georgia that the law creates an undue burden on the poor, the disabled and minorities. The decision, written by Justice Hugh Thompson, concluded that the law was a "minimal, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory restriction."
The decision is the latest setback to critics of the law, who have lost a string of legal fights in state and federal court to overturn the law. A federal appeals panel upheld the rules in January 2009, and the U.S. Supreme Court has found a similar law in Indiana constitutional.
This time, though, the measure's critics took a different tack. They contended the requirement violated the Georgia Constitution, which grants everyone the "absolute right" to vote as long as they meet the required qualifications. And it doesn't say anywhere in the state constitution that a voter must show a photo ID before casting a ballot, the party's lawyers argued in September.
State attorneys countered that there's no stumbling block for voters because anyone who doesn't' have a photo ID can get one for free, and even those who don't want a card can still cast absentee ballots.
The court agreed, finding that the state law "does not deprive any Georgia voter from casting a ballot in any election."
"Although the right to vote guaranteed by our Constitution cannot be 'absolutely denied or taken away by legislative enactment, the legislature has the right to prescribe reasonable regulations as to how these qualifications shall be determined," Thompson wrote in the opinion, which quoted a 1949 court decision.
Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said he was pleased by the decision, which he said allowed the state to safeguard the voting process by "ensuring that only lawfully registered voters cast ballots."
State Democrats said they were disappointed by the ruling, which spokesman Eric Gray said was a critical blow to the party's efforts to protect voting rights.
"We have learned to adapt to the Voter ID rules as a part of our get-out-the-vote effort," said Gray. "But it still requires significant resources, and threatens to disenfranchise Georgia voters."
The lone dissent came from Justice Robert Benham, who said getting the free photo ID was even more burdensome than registering to vote. He also said that voting by absentee ballot bars residents from openly exercising their rights to participate in a democracy.
"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," he wrote.