Politics & Government

More states expected to require voter IDs

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's decision Monday to uphold Indiana's photo ID law in elections will permit Republican-dominated legislatures in nearly a dozen other states to pass legislation that liberal political advocates say will disenfranchise poorer, Democratic-leaning voters.

Project Vote, a liberal-leaning voter registration group, said 59 voter ID bills have been introduced in 24 states — nearly all of them by Republicans — during the 2008 legislative session. Forty are pending. Republican legislators in 11 states also are pushing bills to require proof of citizenship to register to vote.

The use of photo IDs as a way to curb voter fraud has become a touchstone for Democrats who accuse the GOP of engaging in a vast conspiracy to restrict voting of the poor, the elderly and minorities.

Congress investigated the Bush Administration's Justice Department last year over allegations that its Civil Rights Division had twisted enforcement of the nation's voting rights laws to aid Republicans and had authorized restrictive voter ID laws in various states.

Monday's 6-3 ruling only reinforced those opinions.

"The Supreme Court has ...imperiled the rights of thousands of vulnerable voters with no ready access to photo IDs,'' said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. " If this law is enforced in a major presidential election,'' she said, ``I'm afraid we will see many otherwise qualified voters turned away at the polls.''

Barack Obama, whose presidential campaign includes competing in Indiana's primary next week, said: "I will continue to fight to ensure that all of our citizens have equal and unfettered access to the polls, including Indiana voters on May 6. Although I believe today's decision is wrong, I am encouraged that the Court has not completely closed the door to future challenges to state voter ID laws that create discriminatory barriers to the right to vote."

Likewise, Hillary Clinton also expressed disappointment in the ruling. Her spokesman, Jay Carson, said Clinton "believes these voter ID laws disproportionately impair the voting rights of minorities, the poor, and seniors. Republicans claim that these requirements are needed to prevent fraud, but the reality is that they do little more than disenfranchise eligible voters."

In contrast, Republicans hailed the decision.

"Now we have a very clear roadmap for other states to follow,'' said Indiana's Republican secretary of state, Todd Rokita. ``We've been getting calls from 25 other states that have been waiting for a green light, waiting to proceed."

Rokita campaigned for Indiana's 2005 law on grounds that voter impersonation fraud exists even though the state has not prosecuted anyone for the offense.

But when Missouri Republican state Rep. Cynthia Davis of O'Fallon heard the news, she let out a triumphant ``Ha haa ... What a smart court we have!''

Missouri's state Supreme Court struck down a photo ID law in 2006, saying it violated the state's Constitution. Davis said that there are just three weeks left in this year's legislative session, but ``this paves the way'' for her bill to require people to provide proof of citizenship before registering to vote.

In Kansas, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a farmer-rancher who doubles as chairman of the Senate Elections and Local Government Committee, said the ruling would provide ``serious momentum'' for passage of a photo ID bill headed for a House-Senate conference committee in the last week of that state's legislative session.

A bigger question, he said, is whether Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will veto the measure.

Democrats and left-leaning election groups say such a wave of new restrictions would infringe the rights of eligible voters at the lowest rungs of society — those lacking a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID — and who have joined the electoral process amid this year's high-profile presidential campaign.

``This year, millions of new voters are surging into the political process,'' said Michael Waldman, executive director of New York University law school's Brennan Center for Justice. ``This is precisely the wrong message for the Supreme Court to send in this critical year. We shouldn't give partisans an excuse to find ways to keep people from voting.''

In a statement, the NAACP said it was ``deeply alarmed'' by the decision.

Five other states — Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota — already have enacted photo ID laws. But unlike Indiana, some of them only require valid photo IDs from first-time voters or don't require a current address. Federal law gives voters lacking photo IDs the right to file a provisional ballot and produce the required documents soon thereafter.

Related stories from McClatchy DC