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The Supremes uphold election integrity

By Michael M. Bates
web posted May 5, 2008

Heaven knows Jimmy Carter is wrong much of the time.  Yet even the former president has his better days.  One of them occurred during his service as co-chair of the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform.  Carter joined in the commission's recommendation for a voter photo identification requirement.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's law mandating voters to produce a photo ID.  Reaction to this commonsensical ruling was predictable.

Barack Obama called the decision wrong and charged it would hurt minorities, the elderly, the poor, and blustering retired ministers moving into multimillion-dollar mansions in Tinley Park gated communities.  OK, so I made that last part up.

Hillary Clinton said she had questions about the decision, although she didn't specify what those questions are.  Additionally, she expressed hope the ruling wouldn't suppress or deter voter turnout.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moaned, "The Indiana law and others like it are roadblocks to democracy - these laws place an unnecessary burden on elderly and low-income voters, not to mention other voters of disparate racial and ethnic backgrounds, among others."  I'd think voter fraud is a serious roadblock to democracy.

Of course, I'm not nearly as smart as Reid, who recently stated that Federal income taxes are voluntary.  You can bet I'll save that little factoid for next April when I send in my I'm-not-volunteering-this-year note to the IRS instead of the customary check.

For their part, Republicans seemed satisfied with the court's decision.  They can afford to be content; unlike their opponents they don't boast an institutional reliance on the graveyard vote in squeaker elections.

Americans routinely need photo IDs to get on an airplane, to enter many public buildings, to get a library card, to cash a check, to get admitted to a hospital.  So how is it a singular burden for the elderly, minorities and the poor to possess a photo ID for purposes of voting?  Do they never get on an airplane, enter public buildings, etc.?

The Indiana law was challenged by the state Democratic Party and other liberal outfits that have shown themselves oh-so-dedicated to untainted elections over the years.  Filing an amicus brief challenging the voter identification requirement was the League of Women Voters of Indiana and Indianapolis.  The brief included eight examples of people who purportedly had been harmed by the photo ID law.

The first case cited was of an Indiana senior who tried to vote and was told at the polls her Florida driver's license wasn't a valid identification.  She was offered the right to vote provisionally, but refused.

After an estimated four hours of going to two Bureau of Motor Vehicles facilities as well as a Social Security office, she was issued a state ID: "Our persistent and persevering citizen was welcomed back to the precinct with a standing ovation" and allowed to vote.

That's quite a story, and one that dramatically illustrates a potential problem with the voter ID law.

But it wasn't the whole story.  That the woman came to the polls with a Florida driver's license was a clue.  As reported by the Auburn, Indiana Evening Star, our persistent and persevering citizen was registered to vote in two states, Indiana and Florida, which is illegal.  A possible reason she may have registered both places was to qualify for a homestead exemption on her property in both states.

Indiana issues photo IDs for free to individuals who don't have a driver's license and can't afford the $13 fee ($10 for the disabled or people 65 or older).  The state also permits provisional voting in which voters cast a ballot and then have ten days to appear at their local courthouse and prove their identity.

There's now apprehension in certain circles that the Supreme Court's Indiana decision will encourage other states to enact similar voter ID laws.  Interestingly, in these same circles arguments are often advanced with the assertion that many other countries in the world do such and such so we should too.  We should emulate other nations, they contend.

The final report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform observed that "In its deliberations, our Commission considered the best practices of election systems around the world. . . Voters in nearly 100 democracies use a photo identification card without fear of infringement on their rights."

Requiring a photo ID is an extraordinarily small price to pay for maintaining some electoral integrity.  Even Jimmy Carter realizes that. ESR

This Michael Bates column appeared in the May 1, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.


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