FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Six years ago today, Islamic militants hijacked four American jetliners flying two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon. The fourth crash in a Pennsylvania field before reaching its target. Today, the mastermind behind those attacks, Osama Bin Laden, remains at large and violent extremist groups like al-Qaida are thriving, though not necessarily where you might expect. A little later in the show, we'll explore a new front in the war on terror: East Africa.
But first, two years ago, Georgia adopted a new law requiring every voter to present a photo ID at the polls. A chorus of lawsuits followed, arguing that the law would disenfranchise the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
But late last week, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy, who had previously stopped enforcement of the law, reverse course. Judge Murphy applauded the state's efforts to educate voters on the law's new requirements and to make photo IDs both accessible and affordable. This ruling means IDs will be required in local elections later this month.
For more, I spoke with Georgia's Secretary of State Karen Handel. She's been a leading backer of the bill.
Secretary KAREN HANDEL (Secretary of State, Georgia): It's going to take Georgia one step further in terms of the integrity of our elections by insuring that each individual who comes in to cast a vote is indeed who that individual says he or she is.
CHIDEYA: Groups that are challenging this law say, however, that it creates an unnecessary step that could prevent minorities, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, from going to the polls. What do you say to that?
Ms. HANDEL: Well, it's not so much what I say. It's what the courts have found. And the Georgia Supreme Court, along with the latest ruling from Judge Murphy in federal district court, found that the measure did not provide an undue burden on voters, and further went even farther by saying that after two years of trying to identify someone who had been harmed by this requirement, the plaintiff, those opposed to the law, were unable to produce one single individual who had or would be harmed by the law.
CHIDEYA: So what exactly does a voter have to do in terms of getting a voter photo ID?
Ms. HANDEL: Well, if a voter has a Georgia driver's license, even if it's expired, a valid state or federal government-issued ID, a valid passport, a valid employee photo ID from a branch or department of the U.S. government or Georgia, a valid military ID or even a valid tribal photo ID. The individual is good to go. And we have found that the vast majority of individuals do, indeed, have one of those six forms.
If, however, there is an individual who does not have one of those six forms of photo ID, they can easily obtain one if they are registered voter - of course, you have to be a registered voter to have a voter identification card. They can do it through their county registration - voter registration office or through one of the many Georgia Driver Services Department offices.
CHIDEYA: Is there a way that you guys are publicizing how to get this ID, you know, if, as you mentioned, you don't have another?
Ms. HANDEL: Yes. You know, when I came into office in January, I viewed it as a very high responsibility of this agency. And frankly, a very personal responsibility on my part to do as much education and outreach as possible and I think that should occur anytime we have changes voter laws, whether it's photo ID or any other changes that could come down the road in the future.
And we have embarked on an extensive comprehensive education and outreach program. We identified individuals who were not in possession of a driver's license and we did direct personal mailings not just one, but three mailings to those individuals. Plus, we'll be doing an automated phone call. We've done paid public service announcements, we've trained poll workers, we have done outreach all across the 22 counties that have elections next week. And we were fortunate that we were able to sort of phase this outreach efforts.
So we'll focus first on the 22 counties of elections on September 18th. Then, we will expand out to those with elections in November and culminate with the statewide initiative leading in to Georgia's February 5th Presidential Preference Primary.
CHIDEYA: So Karen, you have talked about outreach to people who might not have IDs or might not be aware of how the law works. What about an olive branch to people who were absolutely opposed to this law? Have you spoken to any of them, whether it's individuals, politicians, activists?
Ms. HANDEL: Yes, absolutely. In fact, we did a mailing out to close to a thousand different groups within and it didn't matter if we thought they were supportive or not supportive. In terms of the individuals who were specifically plaintiffs in the case, all but one of the plaintiffs were dismissed. And in fact, with - League of Women Voters of Georgia will be meeting with their executive director. I believe, it's later this week to see how we can partner with them and we will get out reach out to the other organizations as well. And with the one organization that remains certainly, if they're willing to work with us despite remaining as a plaintiff - because remember, they do have the option to appeal. We're more than happy to help them with outreach. In fact, I think that these organizations really have as much as responsibility as we do and we have materials that we're happy to provide as well.
CHIDEYA: So I understand that voters are not required to include ID when voting absentee by mail. Does that concern you at all? Do you think that's a loophole for some people?
Ms. HANDEL: You know, absentee ballot fraud is another area that we need to take a detailed lookout. When I came into office, we discovered what I thought was a big loophole in terms of in-person voter fraud with a felony in Georgia while absentee ballot fraud was a misdemeanor.
And voter fraud is voter fraud and it ought to have the same penalties whether it's in-person or absentee ballot. So we have heightened the penalties for absentee ballot fraud. But do we need to do more? That's something that we're going to look at because clearly, we're having a growing percentage of people voting absentee ballot and we want that process to be just as secure as in-person voting.
CHIDEYA: Well, Karen, thanks again.
Ms. HANDEL: Thank you so much, Farai. Appreciate it.
CHIDEYA: Karen Handel is Georgia's Secretary of State. She's also the proponent of a law requiring Georgia voters to present photo IDs at the polls.
As mentioned, this new law had a bevy of opposition. Plaintiffs in the case against it included the Georgia League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus and two Georgia residents, Bertha Young and Eugene Taylor.