Voters may need photo ID in future elections
• Two bills are asking our legislators to restrict forms of identification required to vote
By Ben Roberts
The process of voting may soon involve more steps than a simple trip to the polls for a number of Georgians.
Two similar bills, House Bill 244 and Senate Bill 84, would change the forms of identification accepted at polling stations, specifically requiring a state or federally issued photo-ID. Currently, Georgia voters may use 17 various forms of identification, many without photographs, including birth certificates, Social Security cards, utility bills and government paychecks.
The new law would cut those forms to seven, all of which have photos of the person to which they're issued. Besides a valid Georgia driver's license or an identification card issued by the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicle Safety (DMVS) or a public university, other accepted forms would include a passport, military ID, tribal ID, or a government-issued ID. Opponents of the bills say the new laws will make Georgia one of the most restrictive in the country in regards to voter identification.
Each bill passed their respective chamber earlier this month and the House version is expected to receive final approval this week before the current legislative session ends. Gov. Sonny Perdue has given no indication he would not sign the bill.
Both bills, introduced by Republicans, have been hotly debated, with Democrats claiming the bills will make it more difficult for the poor and elderly, who may not currently have driver's licenses. Some black Democrats have taken to their chambers' floors in shackles to protest what they claim is an attempt to discourage low-income black voters, a group commonly known for supporting Democrats.
Supporters of the bills say the change is necessary to cut down on the increasing charges of voter fraud in Georgia.
"We're not trying to disenfranchise anybody, regardless of race or color or anything else," said Republican Senator Jim Whitehead, whose district includes Glascock County. "We're trying to eliminate voter fraud as much as we can. Right now, it's a very lax system where no one can know if you really are who you say you are. … We need to be voting by photo ID."
In a statement released by her office, Secretary of State Cathy Cox weighed in on the issue saying, "Our history in Georgia has been one of broadening the right and opportunity to vote - rather than erecting new barriers. And there are considerable numbers of our citizens - some of our elderly and disabled included - who don't carry a driver's license or another form of photo ID. A measure that could deny these Georgians the most precious right we have as citizens … is the wrong direction for Georgia."
Cox went on to point out that of the hundreds of election fraud matters before the Election Board in the last nine years, she could not recall a single incident that involved a person falsely identifying themselves as another registered voter.
Getting one of those accepted forms of identification could prove cumbersome for residents of Jefferson and Glascock counties who don't currently posses a valid Georgia driver's license or other photo ID. Photo identification cards are issued at all regular DMVS service offices at a cost of $10. The closest DMVS offices to Jefferson or Glascock counties are located in Augusta, Thomson, Swainsboro or Milledgeville. The $10 fee is waived if a person can prove they're indigent and cannot afford the cost.
Jefferson County Registrar Lucile Salter admits the new law would make her job and that of poll workers easier, but that it would certainly make the process more difficult for would-be voters who don't currently have an ID.
"Without a photo ID and a signature, we have no way of knowing who they (the voters) are," she said. "But I would like to see them open the (DMVS) satellite offices back up in each county seat."
Rep. Jimmy Lord (D), whose district includes Jefferson County, says the burden the new law would put on non-drivers is precisely why he voted against the house version of the bill.
"I'm looking out for my people," he said. "This bill was aimed at minorities and poor people who wouldn't normally have ID's. That's why I voted against it and if the Senate bill comes up, I'll vote against it, too."
Jefferson County's senator, J.B. Powell, could not be reached for comment, but did voice opposition to the measure in his legislative report to constituents.
"I voted against the bill because it puts an undue hardship on Georgia voters who do not hold driver's licenses, such as the elderly and the poor," the statement said. "Many counties in our state do not provide convenient opportunities to obtain an official photo ID card, and these voters will be discouraged from participating in the electoral process… These voters are at risk of being disenfranchised because of some fear of widespread voter fraud that no one seems to be able to prove actually exists."
Rep. Sistie Hudson, who represents Glascock County, was excused from the House vote on HB 244 and could not be reached for comment either.
Addressing domestic violence
• Glascock Action Partners and local preacher wish to raise awareness and hopefully save families and lives
By Faye Ellison
Residents in Glascock County have decided they will no longer sit quiet and allow domestic violence to claim the lives of their loved ones. Wanda Davis of Glascock Action Partners, Inc. and Pastor Steve Lamb of the Gibson Church of God are holding a Community Awareness on Domestic Violence meeting.
The meeting will be held on Thursday, March 31 at the Gibson Church of God. The program is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Janet Burkett's life was claimed in a misfortune of domestic violence earlier this month. While that tragic event brought the unspeakable subject to the forefront of many citizens' minds, it is the future cases of abuse that could lead to such an end that Davis, Lamb and others hope to address.
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"It became foremost on all of our minds because of that tragedy," Davis said. "A lot more domestic violence is going on than what we admit."
Davis as well as others in the Glascock County community feel that domestic violence needs to be talked about and confronted openly.
"This is something that all communities need to be more pro active about," said Davis. "We need to let people know that there are options and ways out."
One way to map those options is with the help of a special video on Thursday night. Davis will also have Sharon Thomas, the Domestic Violence Advocate with SAFE Homes Intervention Center of Augusta, as a speaker.
Topics that will be covered are the different forms of domestic violence, the cycle it follows, how to establish a safety plan and who to contact if you need help.
Davis expressed that the meeting is not just for those in domestic violence situations, it is for "anyone and everyone who would like to know more about domestic violence and how to prevent it from affecting others."
Janet Burkett was a member of the Gibson Church of God and Davis said it is a good idea to hold the meeting in a church, a church that has already seen what domestic violence can do.
"The Sunday after it happened, Steve said he did not understand domestic violence, it is such a long time hurt," Davis said. "When I heard him, I wondered if he would host the education program. I can't think of a better place than a church. I can't imagine why a church wouldn't be the place to start."
The video that will be shown during the meeting, is not mild by any means according to Davis. There is swearing, but it shows the real side of domestic violence.
"Steve said that he did not have a problem with showing the video," Davis said. "He did not want to sugarcoat this thing and didn't have a problem with telling it like it is. We have to realize couples will not be nice when this is happening."
Davis also realized after watching the video that about 90 percent of the time, the man in the relationship is the aggressor and though they have thought through many ways to help victim, she wondered what could be done to help the aggressor.
"My first reaction to watching the video was 'What are we going to do to help,'" said Davis. "After watching the video, I felt like we were helping everyone but the men, but they do have programs for the aggressor.
"Until we can reach him and change that, we are just always fixing something. We have to go back and fix the root of the problem."
Alcohol and drugs are often present in domestic situations which lead to abuse. There are many aspects that Davis said she realized they would have to work on to solve.
The biggest problem Davis sees is when it involves children.
"I feel compelled to do this, there is such a devastation to children and families. As the Glascock Family Connection, if our work is children and families, how can we not help? I feel it is our obligation as Glascock Action Partners to do that."
Davis is already looking for grants to help with the issue. She wants to pursue it so they can have some sort of domestic violence education in Glascock County. She also hopes to do a shoebox project with the Youth Council in Glascock County that will give supplies to children that live in households plagued by domestic violence.
"I don't think it needs to stop here," said Davis. "I want to go further with this domestic violence issue."