ATLANTA — Requiring voters to show a free photo identification is just one of several changes the U.S. electoral system needs to catch up with most of the rest of the world, former President Carter said Wednesday.

He said Mexicans, Palestinians and Venezuelans all had fairer and more doubt-free elections than Americans recently.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “It’s disgraceful and embarrassing.” Carter made the observation as he filmed a TV and radio program on the recommendations made last year by a commission he co-chaired to restore public confidence in elections.

The former president said requiring voters to show a free photo identification at the polls was just as “practical” as the many identification needs of daily life.

“Americans have to remember you have to have the equivalent to what we’re requiring to cast a ballot to cash a check or board a plane,” Carter during the event at The Carter Center.

He recommended other changes as well, including a paper trail for every ballot cast, nonpartisan election officials, and a central election committee.

Instead of having no ID or making every state choose which kind would count, Carter recommended having a uniform voter ID across the country by 2010. Congress recently passed an anti-terrorism law that creates a national standard for all driver’s licenses by 2008.

Democrats and voting rights activists have vehemently opposed voter ID, arguing that the requirement would be an obstacle for minorities, the poor and the elderly, and discourage their voter turnout.

But another member of the commission, Kay Coles James, said minorities should have the same IDs as everybody else.

“Every American should see that ID as access to one of the greatest privileges this country has to offer,” she said.

In January, Georgia became one of a handful of states that require a photo ID to cast a ballot, though the U.S. Justice Department must clear the measure before it can be enforced. The legislation sparked racial tensions. A lawsuit filed by voter and civil rights groups is pending in the same federal court that blocked enforcement of a similar 2005 law in the fall.

Proponents of the new law, including Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, said it would help prevent voter fraud.

While acknowledging that fraud does happen, Carter said it’s the people’s mistrust in voting that should drive the change.

“The fact is, very few cases of fraud occur, but it creates a doubt,” Carter said.

Carter emphasized that states must make “a massive, aggressive effort” to register poor and elderly voters, who are least likely to have a photo ID like a driver’s license. Georgia’s law requires free cards in all of the state’s 159 counties. A state registration bus that traveled the state in the fall attracted few people.

Still, states will have to take the lead in making elections fairer because “nothing happened in Congress,” Carter said.

“Within the next three or four years all 50 states will move to some kind of voter ID,” Carter predicted.


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