Friday 18 September 2009
Voting booth in Indiana. (Photo: IndyDina / Flickr)
The voter ID debate was re-energized Thursday when the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the Indiana state law requiring voters to show identification, considered the strictest voter ID law of its kind in the country.
As Facing South has reported, voter ID legislation was a hot-button and contentious issue across the country during the 2008 campaign season. Earlier this year, in state legislatures across the South and around the country, passing voter ID legislation quickly become one of the GOP's top issues for the 2009 legislative session.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared Indiana's voter ID law constitutional in April 2008, and it was this ruling that spurred much of the push for passage of ID laws in Republican circles. But the appellate court ruling this week said that Indiana's voter ID law did indeed violate the Indiana constitution by not treating all voters impartially.
According to the Indianapolis Star:
The ruling fanned the flames on a debate that has raged since 2005, when Indiana became the first state to require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls.
Republicans have long held that the law strengthens the electoral process and prevents fraud, while Democrats have insisted that it disenfranchises elderly, disabled and poor voters.
As the Indianapolis Star notes, Indiana's voter ID law has served as a lightning rod for criticism and as a model for other states. Thursday's Indiana ruling was based on a League of Women Voters' challenge that the law violated the Indiana Constitution by imposing a requirement on some, but not all, voters.
Voting rights advocates oppose voter ID legislation, much of which requires voters to present government-issued photo identification before they cast their ballots. Voting rights advocates underscore that these laws act as "de-facto poll taxes" and are discriminatory and burdensome, disproportionately impacting the indigent, elderly, students, women, people with disabilities, low income people and minorities. Several of these ID laws have prompted lawsuits from voting rights advocates.
The New York Times reports that the state level could be where the final battles will be waged over voter ID laws:
[Prof. Richard L. Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles] said Thursday's decision and a similar 2006 case in Missouri suggested that the federal courts, once a bastion of voters' rights, could be taking a back seat to more liberal state courts given the Supreme Court's conservative posture.
Michael J. Pitts, an associate professor at the Indiana University School of Law, agreed. "The state courts are much more amenable to these kinds of lawsuits than the federal courts are," Professor Pitts said, "and this is where these battles are going to be played out."
In other voter ID news, earlier this month Mississippi Republicans, including Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, came together to push for the 100,000 signatures that are needed to put voter ID on the 2010 Mississippi ballot. A bill requiring most Mississippians to show identification to vote passed in the Mississippi House in February, but died in the state Senate in March. Following this, Republicans took their efforts to the streets, kicking off a statewide voter ID petition initiative. In order to get voter ID on the November 2010 ballot, they'll need to fill the petition with 100,000 signatures by Oct. 7. The Mississippi Sun Herald reports that as of last week, about 35,000 signatures had been verified on the petition.