High Court to Decide If Voters Must Show Photo ID

Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Thursday, October 04, 2007

High Court to Decide If Voters Must Show Photo ID

(CNSNews.com) - With the 2008 elections on the horizon, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule on whether an Indiana law that requires voters to have a government-issued photo ID is a security necessity in the post-9/11 world or some sort of partisan plan to suppress voter turnout.

"The Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to right a wrong perpetrated by the GOP as a broader effort to make it harder for some Americans to vote," Donna Brazile, chair of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institute, said in a news release.

"The Indiana voter ID law should be overturned and found unconstitutional," Brazile added. "A strong ruling will discourage other states from trying to apply what can only be described as a modern-day poll tax, which disenfranchises legally eligible voters."

But Kevin Martin, a spokesman for the black conservative group Project 21, replied in a statement of his own that "likening the requirement of a credible ID to a poll tax or other Jim Crow-era roadblocks is nothing more than empty rhetoric parroted by partisan operatives."

"Photo IDs of the sort necessary to vote in states such as Indiana are a growing everyday requirement in the post-9/11 world for security reasons, as well as for business transactions," he said.

At the center of the controversy is Indiana Public Law 109-2005, which states that before casting a ballot, a voter must show an identification card that displays a photo of the person and his or her name (which must conform with registration records), contains an expiration date, and was issued by the state of Indiana or the U.S. government.

Anyone who does not have a driver's license or passport can obtain a free ID card from the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles after producing a birth certificate or another form of acceptable identification.

Even if a person is "unable or unwilling" to present a photo ID on Election Day, the law states that he or she may cast a provisional ballot, as long as the individual produces a photo ID or a reason for not having one to the county election board within 13 days.

When the statute was passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly two years ago, a sponsor of the bill - state Sen. Victor Heinold - said the measure was needed to protect against voter fraud.

"I want everyone in this state to have the right to vote - one time," the GOP official stated.

However, Democratic state Sen. Larry Lutz responded that the only documented cases of voter fraud in Indiana involved absentee ballots, which the bill did not address.

"We should do all we can to make it easier to vote," Lutz said, "not make it more restrictive and intimidating."

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Indiana Democratic Party sued to block the law from taking effect. Their legal briefs argued that the new rule would deprive thousands of citizens of their right to vote.

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled in April 2006 that the plaintiffs had produced "not a single piece of evidence" that the law would prevent registered voters from casting ballots.

Under the new rule, Indiana's congressional incumbents won their primaries on May 2, 2006. Nevertheless, the law was appealed to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel upheld it in a decision on Jan. 4.

The decision by the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on the case in January and is expected to rule on the matter next June, could have national implications since six other states - Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Ohio and South Dakota - require voters to show photo IDs before casting ballots.

Seventeen other states require some form of identification, though not photo IDs: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Court rulings on the issue have been mixed. On Oct. 20, 2006, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona's photo ID requirement, but four days earlier, the Missouri State Supreme Court struck down a similar law there.

Nevertheless, Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita said that before passage of the 2005 law, voters were only required to sign a book at the polling place, and their signature could be compared with a copy on file.

"The fact is that most Hoosiers already assume they're going to be asked for their ID when they vote - after all, they must do so to rent a movie, buy a gun, cash a check and, in many cases, eat at a shelter," he said on the state government Web site.

"While I am appalled that the Supreme Court feels compelled to have to take up such a case in the first place, it is important we get this issue behind us before the next election," added Project 21's Kevin Martin.

"Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans, and we have a right to a process that is free of fraud and corruption," he added.

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