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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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