Indiana divided over voter IDs

On average, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear about 80 out of 1,825 cases, according to a U.S. Department of State electronic journal. Last week, the justices agreed to hear a case concerning the constitutionality of a 2005 Indiana law that requires voters to present specific photo identification at the polls.

"The potential for voter fraud is a huge problem everywhere, and we have had a couple of instance of voter fraud," said Julia Bauler, Indiana's Help America Vote Act Education and Outreach director. "This was one of the preventative measures we wanted to take."

The Indiana Democratic Party, one of the organizations challenging the law, filed a lawsuit against the law before it ever passed into effect, believing it places an extra burden on voters.

"It's too strict, and the way it is written makes it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone who can't get a government issued ID as required by law to vote," IDP Communications Director Jennifer Wagner said. "We've gotten more than 100 calls from people saying they've been turned away."

Under the law, Indiana voters must present government issued photo IDs with expiration dates on them. The date is considered current if it hasn't expired yet or if it expired some time since the last general election, which occur every two years.

Missouri enacted a similar law in 2006, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned it prior to the election that year.

Wagner said she favors other voter identification methods some states have enacted.

"There are other states that currently have voter ID laws on the book that have not been challenged because they provide a myriad of ways beyond strictly photo ID," she said. "For example, if you've got to get a piece of documentation, you can take your yearbook photo and an electrical bill, just things to prove you are who you are."

But Bauler said the Indiana law was intended to be more effective than other states' methods.

"They use utility bills and checks to prove a voter's ID, but frankly it's quite easy to get all those documents," Bauler said. "We felt voter identification merited taking measures one step further."

Wagner said she fears the law is too strict, depriving some eligible voters of their ability to cast ballots.

"The fundamental issue in this case is whether or not we want to uphold constitutional values, or if it's okay to disenfranchise a small number of people," she said. "What we mean by disenfranchise is anyone who's unable to cast a ballot. Our contention is that voting needs to be something people are engaged in more frequently and not the opposite."

Bauler said she disagrees, citing government statistics that show Indiana's voter turnout has increased by five percent from 2002 to 2006, an increase she attributes to government-run outreach efforts.

NAACP spokeswoman Barbara Bolling likened this situation to the poll taxes of the Reconstruction era or Jim Crow laws.

"The bottom line is that part of the population can't get to the polls to vote, no matter how they vote," Bolling said. "We all lose when that vote is not able to be cast."

Bolling said one of her clients wrote to his hometown to locate a copy of his birth certificate but was unsuccessful, and he now must see if the U.S. Census Bureau can find him listed in his household at a certain time.

"Well, of course there's a fee associated with getting that info from the census bureau, then to get to license bureau to submit all documentation," Bolling said. "It's a big hassle. It's putting a burden now on people to able to vote, and that's not laughing matter."

Some voters, including Bolling's client, are exempt from the law if they can't afford documents needed to get an ID, such as a birth certificate, Bauler said.

Absentee voters, members of a religion that prohibits getting one's photo taken and residents of the 35-50 long-term facilities that act as polling facilities in elections are also exempt from the requirement.

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