Supreme Court ruling will disenfranchise Indiana primary voters

The Supreme Court has taken the extraordinary step today of ensuring that eligible voters in Indiana and potentially throughout the country will be denied the right to vote.

“In a year in which millions of people have registered to vote in the presidential primaries, including thousands for Indiana’s primary next week, it’s disheartening to see the Supreme Court uphold a measure that will deter and prevent Americans from participating in the electoral process and having their votes count,” said Tova Wang, Common Cause’s vice president for research. Although the court left open the possibility of future “as applied” challenges to voter ID laws, this will do nothing for the citizens of Indiana in this crucial election year, Wang added.

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a facial challenge to Indiana’s voter identification law, the most restrictive voter ID law in the country. This law requires every voter to present a current photo identification issued by the state of Indiana or the U.S. government. Extensive research has demonstrated in Indiana and elsewhere that many Americans do not have such ID, and that minorities, the elderly, voters with disabilities, the poor, and the young are disproportionately less likely to have this identification.

“While the Supreme Court ruled today that the challengers to the law could not demonstrate a sufficient burden because the ID is ‘free,’ this is a simplistic view,” Wang said.

In Indiana, if a voter does not already have a current driver’s license or passport with the same name on it as the voter filled out on his or her voter registration form (even if the voter has since married and changed his or her name), that voter will encounter a serious challenge to the right to vote. In order to get the so-called free ID the state is offering, well in advance of the election, a voter would have had to go to a Department of Motor Vehicles during working hours and present a primary document, a secondary document, and a proof of residency, or two primary documents and one proof of residency document. The only items that count as primary documents essentially are an original, stamped birth certificate or a passport. Many people do not have their original birth certificate at home. And only about a quarter of Americans have passports. So the voter without their birth certificate handy must go out and buy one – in Indiana that costs between $12 and $20 and much more if the voter was not born in Indiana. And in the ultimate Catch-22, the process for getting a birth certificate may require the voter to present identification. Moreover, the process for getting the birth certificate, particularly for a citizen who was not born in Indiana, can take months.

What’s more, Indiana’s law allows for no recourse. If the voter comes to the polls without the right kind of ID, at least right as far as that particular poll worker is concerned, he cannot vote by regular ballot that day. He must instead return to election offices with the necessary ID within 10 days – something many voters, even if they have the requisite ID, may not be able to do. The only other possibility for poor voters without ID who come to vote is to return within 10 days to fill out an affidavit swearing under law as to their indigence which is totally undefined by the law.

Indiana’s voter identification law has been championed politically and in the courts as necessary to prevent fraud. Voluminous research has found that the type of election fraud that would be prevented by a voter identification requirement – in person, impersonation of another person at the polls – is extremely rare. In fact, in Indiana’s court papers defending the law, the State could not provide one example in Indiana’s entire history in which this type of fraud had taken place. Indeed, not one case of election fraud brought by the Justice Department over the last several years was of the type that would have been addressed by voter identification. This was the case even in an environment in which we now know that Assistant U.S. Attorneys were under enormous pressure to pursue these types of cases.