Monday, April 28, 2008

Supreme Court Upholds Indiana Voter ID

Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Indiana voter ID law.  Stevens, writing for the majority, held that the Indiana statute requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls in order to prevent voter fraud was constitutional.  The court weighed the state's ID restriction as slight compared to its substantial interest in protecting the integrity of the voting process.  The Court failed to view this law as severe a restriction as the poll tax, but rather, as a permissible "time, place, manner" restriction.  (Read the full opinion). 

It seems partisan politics are the source of this case, with the Petitioner-Indiana Democratic Party (and several amici) claiming that the Voter ID statute will significantly deter the poor, the disabled, and the elderly-- who typically vote Democratic-- from casting a ballot in the November 2008 Presidential elections.  As a result, the argument goes, the Democratic party will lose votes.  Petitioners also claim that several voters were already turned away from the polls in a Nov. 2007 local election because of this statute (However, the record in evidence demonstrates that only about 30 people were in fact impacted in this Indianapolis election). 

Of course the State contends that the burden is slight-- what's the big deal, they essentially argue, about presenting a free photo ID at the polls? (In response, petitioners argue that the class in question-- the poor, disabled, and the elderly-- typically do not drive or own vehicles.  Therefore they have neither the requisite driver's license, nor the ready access to transportation to a local DMV to obtain the free photo ID).  But the Respondents also exaggerate their evidence regarding the problem supposedly at issue, namely, voter fraud.  In my opinion, this is where the state's argument really loses its credibility.  Respondents cannot cite one instance of actual voter fraud in Indiana, but rely instead on occurrences in other jurisdictions.  

Personally, I don't agree with the voter ID law, or any law that adds layers of governmental bureaucracy to what should be a basic, fundamental right.  But I also find it hard to believe that Indiana is going to lose any major Democratic votes over the statute.  Whatever issues face the non-ID holders before the election-- i.e. lack of time, money, transportation, etc-- will likely be the same issues deterring that same class on election day.  And whatever tools the Democratic party uses to bring voters to the polls-- i.e. bussing and other GOTV efforts-- can also be employed pre-election day to help voters get a photo ID, get registered, and get ready to cast a ballot.  

I think that Petitioner's case is a waste of precious judicial time and resources.  The claim itself highlights legal hurdles, when we know that no amount of bureaucratic obstacles can contend with what truly draws voters to the polls in droves: excitement and passion.  The Obama-Clinton race has already brought voters to the polls in record numbers nationwide (i.e. the Pennsylvania Primary) and more Democrats are registered than ever before.  And with the May 6th Indiana primary election just around the corner, things are getting heated in the Photo ID state.  According to the WSBT-South Bend poll, 48 percent of Indiana voters favor Barack Obama while 47 percent favor Hillary Clinton.  If this tight race isn't enough to get voters excited about going to the polls, nothing will.  So, whatever loss in votes results from the photo ID law will be counterbalanced by the gain in votes from excited, first-time ballot-casters.

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