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Justices uphold state's voter ID law

Ruling leaves open possibility for individual challenges.

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Voters will still need to have valid photo identification to be able to vote in person in Indiana elections. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the state’s voter ID law June 30, ruling the state’s legislature has the power to require voters to show photo ID when voting at the polls.

The decision comes in League of Women Voters of Indiana Inc. and League of Women Voters of Indianapolis Inc. v. Todd Rokita in his Official Capacity as Indiana Secretary of State, No. 49S02-1001-CV-50. The Indiana Court of Appeals in September 2009 struck down a portion of the state law enacted in 2005.

Court of Appeals Judges Patricia Riley, James Kirsch, and Paul Mathias found the law “regulates voters in a manner that’s not uniform and impartial,” and as a result they instructed the trial judge to enter an order declaring it void. The judges determined the requirement isn’t considered a substantive voting qualification as the League of Women Voters had argued, and that state officials are able to enact procedural regulations as long as the rules are reasonable, uniform, and impartial to all voters. That isn’t the case here, the court decided.

After the appellate court issued their decision, Gov. Mitch Daniels criticized the ruling, calling it “an act of judicial arrogance” that will eventually be a “footnote in history.”

When the League of Women Voters filed the suit in July 2008 in Marion County, the organization claimed the voter ID law violates Article 2, Section 2 of the state constitution that says citizens only need to meet age, citizenship, and residency requirements in order to vote in person. The plaintiffs also argued the statute violates the state constitution’s equal privileges section because it doesn’t treat all voters the same. Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid upheld the law in 2008, and the justices granted transfer in January to consider the issue.

The justices voted 4-1 in affirming the dismissal, agreeing that the law does not violate Article 2, Section 2; and Article 1, Section 23 of the Indiana Constitution.

“No individual voter has alleged that the Voter ID Law has prevented him or her from voting or inhibited his or her ability to vote in any way,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson for the majority. “Our decision today does not prevent any such voter from challenging the Law in the future.”

The voter ID law’s requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls is merely regulatory in nature. The justices also found not requiring photo ID for mail-in absentee voters is reasonably related to the inherent distinctions between such voters and those voting in person. They also found the extremely small number of voters who live in state-licensed care facilities who don’t have to show ID to vote represent a minor and insubstantial disparity permissible under Section 23.

Justice Theodore Boehm dissented because he said he believed the issue in the case is whether the Indiana Constitution allows the General Assembly in one session to impose a voter ID requirement or whether it requires that two successive sessions of the legislature agree that the measure is necessary and submit it to the voters to make the final decision. The photo ID requirement can only be imposed by amending the constitution, he wrote.

The plaintiffs allege not all registered voters have a valid photo ID, and cite instances of voters who were turned away for lack of a photo ID, or who cast a provisional ballot then were unable or unwilling to complete the process required for the vote to be counted. These allegations were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, he wrote.

He also rejected the law because some of the restrictions in obtaining the state-issued photo ID don’t address the legitimate concerns of preventing voter fraud and a person doesn’t have to show photo ID to register to vote. All citizens have standing to attack a statute that unconstitutionally denies any voter the right to exercise electoral franchise.

“A statute that wrongly denies any group of citizens the right to vote harms us all, and therefore may properly be challenged as invalid in its entirety, not merely as to those directly affected,” he wrote. “Thus I do not agree with the majority that the remedy the plaintiffs seek here – invalidating the voter ID requirement – is beyond their grasp.”

Karen Celestino-Horseman, one of the Indianapolis attorneys for the League of Women Voters, said they were disappointed by the ruling and they were hopeful the Supreme Court would allow them to be able to present their case to the trial court.

She anticipated attorneys would watch for potential plaintiffs’ suits or even a potential class action in the future, especially after November’s election and January 2011, when the federal government’s imposition of specific standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and other identification begins.

Despite that, she also hopes the legislature will look at expanding what constitutes acceptable identification.

While the justices say the door is open for future challenges from people who claim the law discriminates against them, Celestino-Horseman said that’s not realistic because the concern is the people who would challenge the law are those who don’t have financial or other means to challenge it.

Those on the other side of the case praised the ruling. Secretary of State Todd Rokita said in a statement that “Hoosier commonsense prevailed again” and that he will continue to stand up for the rights of residents so they can continue to have fair and accurate elections.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller praised the state’s Solicitor General Tom Fisher, who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the state.

“My office has vigorously investigated various forms of election fraud in multiple counties and we combat daily the problem of identity theft in consumer transactions. The Voter ID statute was a reasonable step to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and prevent fraudulent voting from taking place, so I am pleased that the Indiana Supreme Court has declared that the statute is constitutional,” Zoeller said in a statement.

This state case comes more than two years after a separate 2008 ruling in William Crawford, et al. v. Marion County Election Board, 128 S. Ct. 1610 (2008), in which the Supreme Court of the United States held the state law may be unconstitutional as applied to a small number of voters who must incur costs in order to obtain the ID, but that since that case had no such voters as plaintiffs, it failed to reach that claim. That ruling also rejected the facial challenge, but left the door open for as-applied challenges in federal court and those involving state constitutional claims.•

Michael W. Hoskins contributed to this story.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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