Supreme Court weighs in on state voter ID law
WASHINGTON (AP) — The dispute over Indiana’s voter identification law that is headed to the Supreme Court next week is as much a partisan political drama as a legal tussle.
The mainly Republican backers of the law, including the Bush administration, say state-produced photo identification is a prudent measure to cut down on vote fraud — even though Indiana has never had a prosecution of the kind of fraud the law is supposed to prevent. The opponents, mainly Democrats, view voter ID a modern-day poll tax that disproportionately affect poor, minority and elderly voters — who tend to back Democrats. Yet, a federal judge found that opponents of the law were unable to produce evidence of a single Indiana resident who had been barred from voting because of the law.
The Supreme Court, which famously split 5-4 in the case that sealed the 2000 presidential election for George Bush, will take up the Indiana law on January 9, just as the 2008 presidential primaries are getting under way.
A decision should come by late June, in time to be felt in the November elections in Indiana and in Georgia, the other state with a strict photo ID requirement, as well as in a handful of other states.
The justices will be asked to decide whether the law is an impermissible attempt to discourage certain voters or a reasonable precaution among several efforts aimed at cutting down on illegal voting. “There’s more than a little bit of irony in going to the Supreme Court and asking them to rise above partisan politics in election cases,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
The court’s decision in the disputed 2000 election is partly responsible for the ensuing increase in election-related lawsuits and the loss of confidence by some groups in the voting system, Hasen said. Yet, the other branches of government seem more politicized than ever, leaving the court as the best option despite the 2000 election dispute, he said. Indiana argues that demands for identification are frequent in today’s society, and producing a photo ID at polling places is hardly onerous.
Published in The Messenger 1.2.08