The Supreme Court yesterday said it will hear a case challenging Indiana‘s voter-identification law, wading into a highly charged political dispute over whether such laws prevent fraud as intended, or instead keep low-income Democratic voters from the polls.
Republican-led legislatures in states across the country have sought to impose new identification rules, and the Indiana case gives the court a chance to sort out conflicting rulings by lower courts on those laws.
Dan Parker, chairman of Indiana’s Democratic Party, which has led the court challenges in that state, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case and said the law is a solution in search of a problem.
“Republican lawmakers and Secretary of State Todd Rokita have never been able to provide evidence of in-person voter fraud that would justify a broad sweeping, strict law such as this one,” said Mr. Parker.
But Mr. Rokita said most of his state’s voters approve of the law, adding it targets a real problem.
“Unfortunately, voter fraud exists, and Hoosiers shouldn’t have to become further victims of it before action is taken. Five Indiana elections have shown the overwhelming success of this law,” he said.
Complicating matters further, political scientists disagree over whether identification laws really do prevent Democrats from voting, thus skewing elections toward Republicans.
A report earlier this month by three university professors said stricter voter-identification requirements would disproportionately hurt minority voters and, if they had been in place in 2006, would have cost Democrats some of the U.S. House seats they picked up.
But another report this month, conducted by the Heritage Foundation, found such laws do not affect turnout to any meaningful degree.
Indiana’s law requires a photo identification issued by the state or federal government. Exceptions are made for the indigent and those with religious objections to being photographed, who could still vote either by absentee or provisional ballot and would later have to visit an elections office and affirm they meet the exemptions.
The law was upheld by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January, and in his majority opinion, circuit court Judge Richard A. Posner was savage in rejecting the Democratic Party’s arguments.
He pointed out how difficult it was to operate in America without an identification — “try flying, or even entering a tall building such as the courthouse in which we sit, without one” — and said the plaintiffs weren’t able to find a single person who said he or she would have voted but for the new law.
“No doubt there are at least a few such people in Indiana, but the inability of the sponsors of this litigation to find any such person to join as a plaintiff suggests that the motivation for the suit is simply that the law may require the Democratic Party and the other organizational plaintiffs to work harder to get every last one of their supporters to the polls,” the judge wrote, joined in the 2-1 decision by Judge Diane S. Sykes.
But in his dissent, Judge Terence T. Evans said the state has no evidence of voter fraud to justify the need for the law, either. He said that makes the law “a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”
Based on the briefing schedule, the case should be heard early next year.