- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that states can require voters to show photo identification at the polls, delivering a win to Republicans who pushed for an identification law in Indiana and greenlighting other states to follow suit.

In a 6-3 ruling, the justices upheld Indiana’s law, which has been called the strictest in the nation, saying that stopping the danger of voter fraud trumps the burden placed on elderly, minority and poor voters by requiring identification.

“We cannot conclude that the statute imposes ‘excessively burdensome requirements’ on any class of voters,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the controlling opinion, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The court was weighing in on what has been a little-noticed but bitter struggle between Democrats and Republicans over fraud and voters’ access to the voting booth. In recent years, Arizona and Georgia also have enacted identification laws, and yesterday’s ruling will likely push other states to follow suit.

“It will give new impetus to our effort to have a moderate voter ID law,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told The Washington Times yesterday. Mr. Barbour, a Republican, has so far been unable to get the Mississippi Legislature to pass such a law.

Elections analysts said they expect other states with Republican legislative majorities or new Republican governors to consider their own laws.

Voting rights groups and Democrats were outraged by the ruling, though with liberal stalwart Justice Stevens writing the controlling opinion, they were hard-pressed to blame partisanship.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said the “silver lining” was that the court left open the door for challenges, but only if plaintiffs could find actual instances of voters being disenfranchised. He urged voters to try to spot and report any perceived problems this year.

“Congress and the states must be vigilant to ensure that today’s divided ruling is not exploited for partisan purposes in this election year,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Republicans generally have favored tighter fraud controls, and both the Republican National Committee and the White House praised the court’s ruling. Democrats, meanwhile, have said rules are too tight, and have fought to expand ballot access through same-day registration and re-enfranchising felons.

In yesterday’s case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the justices all agreed states should try to limit voter fraud, and should be given leeway in conducting their elections. The key issue was how much of a burden showing photo identification really is.

“I believe the statute is unconstitutional because it imposes a disproportionate burden upon those eligible voters who lack a driver’s license or other statutorily valid form of photo ID,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said, dissenting. Justice David H. Souter wrote a separate dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But three other justices said identification is not a hindrance.

“The burden of acquiring, possessing, and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not ‘even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting,’ ” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas.

Indiana’s law requires voters to show photo identification or, lacking that, visit election officials within 10 days of the election to file an affidavit affirming their identity. The law already had been upheld at the district and appeals court levels.

At trial, the state didn’t produce much evidence of a problem from in-person voter fraud, but the law’s Democratic opponents didn’t prove that showing identification was much of a burden, either.

A Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll earlier this year found an overwhelming majority of voters see nothing wrong with showing identification at the polls. Support was strong across both party and racial lines.

The court yesterday paid particular attention to the 2005 report from the commission on election reform led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Republican administration official James A. Baker III.

Mark F. “Thor” Hearne, an elections lawyer who was a staffer for the commission, said the court was giving a road map to states for how to go forward: “Go out there, read the Carter-Baker report, look at those kinds of recommendations from a bipartisan, best-practices group, adopt those, and we will not overturn those.”

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