Free Georgia photo ID card proposed for absentee voting requirements

02/25/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia —Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston presents HR 119 in the House Chambers on day 23 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta Thursday, February 25, 2021. The resolution will rename a bridge after former U.S. Senator and U.S. Congressman Johnny Isakson. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
02/25/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia —Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston presents HR 119 in the House Chambers on day 23 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta Thursday, February 25, 2021. The resolution will rename a bridge after former U.S. Senator and U.S. Congressman Johnny Isakson. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

House Speaker David Ralston announced a plan Wednesday to offer free Georgia ID cards that could be used for voting, opening bank accounts and traveling on airlines.

The ID cards would help voters comply with absentee voting identification requirements included in election overhaul legislation that passed the House on Monday. Under House Bill 531, voters requesting an absentee ballot would need to provide a driver’s license number, a state ID number or a copy of other identifying documents.

“I am committed to eliminating barriers to voting for all legally eligible Georgians. This is just another effort to make our elections more secure and accessible,” Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said during a press conference at the Capitol.

Other state officials said a new ID card isn’t necessary.

Free voter identification cards issued by the Department of Driver Services already include security features that comply with the federal government’s REAL ID standards, required when going through airport security or opening a checking account, according to the department.

“Since this has been established practice for more than 10 years, of course we support this,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said.

In addition, registered voters who lack the documentation required by the Department of Driver Services can obtain a free voter ID card from their county election office.

The new ID cards could be created administratively through the state Department of Driver Services, without the need of new legislation, Ralston said. The cost of the program is unclear, but Ralston said the House budget proposal includes $250,000 to publicize it to Georgians.

Voting rights organizations have criticized proposed absentee ID requirements, saying they would discourage voting among Georgians who lack a driver’s license or state ID.

“This is an excuse to pass Georgia Republicans’ voter suppression bills,” the voting rights group Fair Fight said in a statement. “It’s simply an attempt to justify discriminatory voter ID provisions.”

About 97% of Georgia registered voters have an official driver’s license or state ID on file with the secretary of state’s office, leaving over 200,000 voters without a valid ID number. Voters without a driver’s license or state ID would need to submit a copy of identifying documents, such as a recent utility bill or government check, to request an absentee ballot.

“We’re making it accessible,” said state Rep. Todd Jones, R-Cumming, who worked on the idea. “This way, we’re going to encourage participation” in Georgia elections.

Both the House and Senate have passed separate bills seeking more identification of absentee voters. That legislation will continue to be debated until the end of this year’s legislative session March 31.

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