It may sound quite sensible to require Americans to show a photo ID before stepping into a voting booth. But as a growing number of states push to require such IDs, the move is drawing opposition from critics who see it as an effort to disenfranchise the poorest--and presumably most Democratic--voters. Five states today require a photo ID at the polls (Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota), and seven more have considered such a requirement this year. In the past two weeks alone, photo-ID bills have been signed into law in Georgia and Indiana; killed in committee in California; and vetoed in Wisconsin by Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Doyle insists the bill "has more to do with politics than ... with fraud." In Georgia, G.O.P. Governor Sonny Perdue defended the new law: "Considering you must show a photo ID when cashing a check, renting a movie, getting on an airplane, I believe this is a reasonable requirement."
But Georgia's provision, like the ones proposed in Arizona and Texas, must be approved by the Justice Department because of the history of voter discrimination in these states. Georgia's law could be a tough sell: residents can fill in a provisional ballot without a photo ID but must return with one within 48 hours or the ballot won't be counted. "You may not be turned away," says Tim Storey, elections analyst for the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, "but whether your vote will be counted is another question."
Representatives of the ACLU and several black caucuses say there's no proof of voter fraud to justify these requirements. ID advocates counter that there is no proof of disenfranchisement either. Although an Ohio State University study predicts that 6% to 10% of qualified voters in that state could be turned away if a photo ID were demanded, no studies have yet been conducted to determine whether disenfranchisement has occurred in states where such ID is already required. --By Greg Fulton