ATLANTA — Invoking the South’s long history of Jim Crow-era laws designed to keep blacks from the polls, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes on Thursday asked a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the state’s new voter ID law.

Barnes said the law — which mandates that voters present a government-issued photo identification - violated Georgia’s constitution, which guarantees the right to vote.

But lawyers defending the law argued that to put on the brakes on at the “11th hour” would be disruptive. Free voter IDs are already being issued in Georgia and will be required of all those who vote in person in the July 18 primary, now less than two weeks away.

“A restraining order at this point would throw a monkey wrench in the whole procedural apple cart that has already left the station,” said lawyer Marc Cohen, arguing on behalf of the state.

Cohen said the two plaintiffs challenging the law did not have legitimate standing because each had, or could easily obtain, the ID needed to vote. Rosalind Lake still had an old student ID card from Florida International University. Photo IDs issued by other states are an acceptable form of ID under Georgia’s law. Barnes said Lake did not believe the ID was still valid.

The other plaintiff, Matthew Hess, had a driver’s license but said it had been stolen.

Cohen argued that Hess could easily obtain a new license, vote by absentee ballot or get a Georgia voter ID card.

“Neither of their clients is going to be denied the opportunity to cast a ballot,” Cohen said.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melvin Westmoreland said that he would decide the issue on Friday.

Barnes, a Democrat, used his time before the judge to offer an impassioned plea on why the law would harm the state’s most vulnerable — the poor, the elderly and minority voters.

Barnes said that every year since the nation’s founding “we have seen a march toward greater suffrage, universal suffrage.” That stopped in 2005, Barnes said as Georgia enacted a voter ID law designed to keep people from the polls. Supporters of the law had created a “false devil” of voter fraud, Barnes said.

“Have we become so cynical and so partisan that we would deprive others of the right to vote,?” he asked.

The suit in Fulton County Superior Court is one of two pending legal challenges against the voter ID law. Arguments in the second case, in U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga., are scheduled for Wednesday. A coalition of interest groups is seeking a preliminary injunction to keep the law from being implemented.

Supporters of the voter ID law say it is needed to prevent voter fraud, While opponents argue it will disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters least likely to have photo IDs.

The Republican-led Georgia Legislature first adopted a voter ID law in 2005 but U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy blocked its enforcement saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Early this year lawmakers amended the law to make the IDs free to anyone who needs them and to ensure they are available in each of the state’s 159 counties.

Lawyers said Thursday that 83 photo IDs have been issued throughout Georgia so far. The state began issuing the IDs on Friday.


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