Supreme Court upholds voter ID law

Voter ID
IL file photo

This story has been updated.

The Indiana legislature has the power to require voters to show photo identification when voting at the polls, the Indiana
Supreme Court ruled today.

The decision comes in League of Women Voters of Indiana and League of Women Voters of Indianapolis v. Todd Rokita,
No. 49S02-1001-CV-50, a Marion County case in which the Indiana Court of Appeals in September 2009 struck down a portion of
the state law enacted in 2005.

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

Filing the suit in July 2008, the League of Women Voters claimed the voter ID law violates Article 2, Section 2 of the Indiana
Constitution that says citizens need only 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.

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. The justices granted transfer in
January to consider the issue.

 “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-license
care facilities who don’t have to show ID to vote represent a minor and insubstantial disparity permissible under Section

Justice Theodore Boehm dissented because he felt his colleagues focused on the wrong issue. He believed the issue is whether
the Indiana Constitution allows one session of the General Assembly 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 turned away for lack of
a photo ID or who cast a provisional ballot then are unable or unwilling to complete the process required for the vote to
be counted. These allegations are sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, he wrote.

Justice Boehm 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.”

“The photo ID cannot be justified as a registration requirement for a second reason: some of the restrictions placed
on obtaining a state-issued ID do not address the legitimate concerns of preventing voter fraud. The process of obtaining
a photo ID is the product of a regulatory scheme that has nothing to do with voter fraud,” Justice Boehm wrote. “…
it fails to address the most obvious potentials for abuse of the registration process. To the extent we have instances of
voter fraud, they have been in the use of absentee ballots that are not subject to the photo ID requirement, not in instances
of voters appearing at the polls claiming to be someone they are not.”

Karen Horseman, one of the Indianapolis attorneys for League of Women Voters, said they were disappointed with today’s
ruling and that they were hoping the Supreme Court would allow them to be able to present their case to the trial court.

She anticipates attorneys will 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, 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.

This state case follows 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 cost in order to obtain the ID, but because 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 Hoskins contributed to this story.


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