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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Voter ID: Another Reason to Stay Home


Despite the fevered interest in this year's Democratic presidential primaries, it doesn't take much to discourage millions of Americans from voting in most elections.

Rain in the forecast, polls closing at 8 p.m., long day at the office, memory lapse -- just name it, someone's used it as an excuse.

So when half of the voting-age population often stays home on Election Day, voters hardly needed the U.S. Supreme Court to give them yet one more reason to stay away from the polls.

That's just what the court did last week, ruling that Indiana's toughest-in-the-nation voter-identification law passed muster even though it requires forms of photo ID that millions of citizens might not hold.

These laws will make it less likely that poor, elderly, disabled or non-driving voters will cast a ballot, simply because they're less likely to have a driver's license or similar form of government-issued identification. That's the reality the court's 6-3 majority ignored as justices imposed what can be described only as a middle-class point of view on the Indiana law.

That is, each of the justices can reach into a pocket and produce a driver's license, so what's the big deal? Justices decided requiring such photo ID to vote was a burden that, as Justice Antonin Scalia said, "is minimal and justified."

Until every urban voter obtains driving privileges or a government-issued photo ID, the impact of this ruling will be their immediate disenfranchisement. The alternative means of voting without photo ID provided by the Indiana law won't work for most voters, so there's nothing minimal about the court's view.

As for being justified, neither Indiana officials nor those in other states considering photo-ID rules can point to anything like a widespread problem with voter fraud. That ought to be the threshold crossed before enacting any voting rules that pose so great a risk of discouraging so many voters.

So why write such rules? Democrats fighting these largely Republican-backed measures have good grounds to suspect the real aim is to depress the vote in Democrats' urban strongholds.

Even the court said it's "fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role" in passing Indiana-style voting laws. Why, then, isn't this just another illegal poll tax? Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that there was a real "risk of voter fraud" even though no voter-impersonation fraud had been proven in Indiana. Incredible.

There's at least some hope that other states won't rush into writing their own photo-ID voting laws, since they still could be undone by future court challenges. That's because the court left open the door for voting-rights groups to bring lawsuits to prove that photo-ID rules are turning away voters.

At the same time as GOP-controlled state legislatures are requiring official photo IDs for voting, Congress' Real ID Act of 2005 -- a misguided anti-terrorism measure -- will make it even harder to obtain such identification. So that's a double-whammy for voters currently without a photo ID.

The court that picked a president with Bush v. Gore continues to play a role in tilting the outcome of elections.

© Copyright 2008 Philly Online, LLC.

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