Supreme Court to Hear Voter ID Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that raises the question of whether requiring a voter to have a government-issued photo ID unfairly impacts poor and minority voters.

Many question whether the case, which will be decided before the end of the Court's term in June, will have an impact on the turnout of those voters for the 2008 presidential election.

The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a 2005 Indiana law that would require all voters to show ID before being able to vote. Judge Richard Posner, a prominent judge who sits on the bench in the Seventh Circuit, said it would be impossible for a person to exist in society today without an ID, saying, "Try flying or entering a tall building."

The National Committee on Election Reform said that 6 to 10 percent of eligible voters don't have valid IDs -- perhaps as many as 20 million Americans. Most of them are poor, getting by with no identification at all. They don't drive, they don't have bank accounts and they don't fly.

Only a few states have voter identification laws but the Indiana Democratic Party -- one of the petitioners -- said that Indiana's requirements are the most restrictive.

To get an ID in the state, you must have a validated birth certificate and two other forms of identification. An Indiana state employee has testified that as many as 60 percent of applicants for IDs are turned away because of improper documentation.

Those arguing for the voter identification law say that they are concerned about inflated voter registration lists and nationwide reports of in-person voter fraud.

Thomas Fisher, Indiana's Solicitor General, will argue the case before the court. He says that the point of the law "is being able to protect and deter individuals who would come in and vote in another's name. We have in Indiana, unfortunately, inflated voter registration lists."

In documents submitted to the court, they cite a 2000 Indianapolis Star report that found 300 dead people on the registered voter list, which Fisher contends is the worst in the country. There is, however, no evidence of anyone having been prosecuted for impersonating a registered voter.

An article in the Michigan Law Review said that the number of voters that would fail to show up with IDs would be several times higher than the number of fraudulent voters.

But Fisher is still concerned. He says that "there is a real risk that individuals may pick names of individuals who are not legitimate voters and come in and use their names to vote. Photo identification deters that and helps detect it when it happens. "

Ken Falk, with the American Civil Liberties Union, who will argue the other side of the case before the court, asks, "Why are we imposing these restrictions on a minority group, when there is no evidence of voter fraud?" The ACLU's petition can be viewed by clicking here.

He says he is glad the court agreed to hear the case because "we need to nip this in the bud especially given the upcoming presidential election."

This is a battle between Republicans, who are for the law, and Democrats, who are against it, and split along those lines in the appeals court. One of the dissenting appeals court judges said that "this is a not too veiled attempt to discourage Election Day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic."

The court will decide the case by the end of the term in June, well before the November presidential election.