News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 7, 2007

Tribune-Star Editorial: Voter ID law retains cloak of partisan politics

There was a time when the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case was considered good news. That has changed for millions of Americans over the last few years, and an Indiana lawsuit headed for the high court underscores why.

The issue is the state’s photo identification voter law, which offers the most cumbersome set of requirements for franchisement in all 50 states. Without a government-issued photo ID, a registered voter can cast only a provisional ballot that will be tossed out if the person does not show up at the local courthouse, official photo ID in hand, within 10 days of an election.

The law also requires that, if finances prevented the person from obtaining the official ID for the polls, he or she must swear in writing to the sorry state of poverty.

The cynical creation of a Republican-controlled legislature and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, the law is supposed to combat voter fraud. But it is a solution in search of a problem. Incidence of the kind of fraud a photo ID would address is zero in Indiana and virtually nil in every other state.

Rokita and all the other activists (including several judges) argue that opponents of the photo ID law also can’t find a single person who has been disenfranchised because of the requirements. While this may be true, consider what a search for someone like that entails compared to a search for actual voter fraud that would have been stopped by a photo ID.

The latter should be simple, yet we’re still waiting for a bona fide example. Shouldn’t the burden of proof for any codified prohibition be on the people who insist it’s necessary?

Not by coincidence, voter ID laws like Indiana’s — there are dozens of similar but milder versions — are the handiwork of Republicans. Nearly all suits against such laws involve a state’s Democratic Party because Democrats tend to attract people most affected by stringent voting requirements: the elderly and the economically strapped, including students.

Thus, the Hoosier ID law is not only a solution in search of a problem, it’s a very partisan solution. Just what the U.S. Supreme Court needs — more politics infecting its rarefied judicial ranks.

Recently, when the nine justices announced they would allow the voter case to be argued before them during the 2007-08 session, Indiana University law professor Pat Baude said the decision “raises the possibility of another self-inflicted wound, like the Court’s decision to resolve the 2000 election in favor of George Bush.”

Yea or nay, the court’s final ruling “will necessarily have a direct partisan effect of helping one party or the other,” said Baude. That can only erode more of the “moral authority” and “prestige,” the court lost when it entered and settled the Republican-Democratic fight in Florida seven years ago.

Indicative of the expected outcome of the Indiana case, Rokita hailed the Supremes’ decision, saying it “will only add to the confidence Indiana voters already have been given by this common sense, no cost law that creates a level playing field for all voters.”

Whose confidence? Not that of the Indiana Democratic Party, the NAACP or the American Civil Liberties Union, all of whom have sued to get the law reversed. Not that of federal appeals court judge Terence T. Evans, who dissented in the most recent appellate ruling.

“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Evans wrote. “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage Election Day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”

He compared the law to the use of a sledgehammer to hit “either a real or imagined fly on a glass coffee table.”

Anybody care to bet against another 5-4 “conservative” majority upholding the sledgehammer?