The Supreme Court, studiously avoiding almost all mention that it was examining a thoroughly partisan political battle, spent a spirited hour on Wednesday looking for ways either to scuttle a major test case over voters' rights or to find a way — as if the Justices were writing a law themselves — to soften the impact of a tough state requirement for a photo ID before a voter may cast a ballot at the polls.
Only two Justices — Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens — even hinted at the real-world fact that the photo ID law in Indiana is at the heart of a bitter, ongoing contest reaching well beyond Indiana. It is a dispute between Republicans worried over election fraud supposedly generated by Democrats to pad their votes, and Democrats worried over voter suppression supposedly promoted by Republicans to cut down their opposition. The abiding question at the end: can a decision be written that does not itself sound like a political, rather than a judicial, tract? Can the Court, in short, avoid at least the appearance of another Bush v. Gore?
At issue in the consolidated cases of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (07-21) and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita (07-25) is the constitutionality of a 2005 Indiana law that voters who show up at the polls without a photo ID will be allowed only to cast a provisional ballot, to be validated later at another place only if they can travel there and then prove identity. It has been upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court, leading to appeals to the Supreme Court by Democrats or their state party apparatus.
It was apparent from the outset that the Court's more conservative members were most interested in (a) finding that no one had a right to bring the constitutional challenge, at least at this stage, (b) putting off a challenge until the law has actually been enforced or at least until just before election day, or (c) salvaging as much as possible of the Indiana photo ID requirement on the theory that voter fraud is a problem that states have a legitimate right to try to solve. There was some hand-wringing, particularly by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., over how difficult it is for a judge to "draw the line" on when a voting requirement would or would not pass a constitutional test.
And it was equally apparent that the Court's more liberal members were most keen about (a) pushing the Court to decide the case now, (b) doing so in a way that at least narrows the impact of the Indiana law on poor or minority voters, and (c) applying some constitutional pressure on the states to regulate voter fraud — if they do so at all — with more specifically targeted statutes.
that pretty much nails it, but do read the whole thing.
this is one of those cases where there's very little actual evidence on either side, so lacking any solid information, neither side has much to fall back on save its own political philosophy (or innate biases, as it were). the bush DoJ practically tore their fingernails off digging for actual evidence of polling place fraud, yet came up empty handed—but still, conservatives remain convinced that it exists.
likewise, it's blatantly obvious to liberals that the law as written is an undue burden on some voters, but the percentage of the population that's potentially disenfranchised is small—the highest estimate of 200,000 hoosiers is still less than 3% of the population, not taking into effect low turnout rates, etc—so finding people who've been denied the right to vote has been difficult. either they eventually went through enough hoops that they were allowed to vote, they filed provisional ballots but never came back to certify them, or, knowing that they couldn't obtain adequate id, they simply stayed home instead of wasting their time going to the polls.
so it's hardly a surprise that a supreme court which president bush has managed to stack with conservatives would be leaning 5-4 in favor of indiana's voter id law. that's just the nature of today's court. and if they rule that crawford didn't have proper standing to bring this case at this time, then it looks like the only way to challenge the law will be for democrats to find some actual disenfranchised voters. i'm convined they'll be able to do it eventually, but it might take a couple elections. sadly, that means that the damage will already be done by the time we can get the law changed—at least judicially. of course, the best way to fix the law is probably legislatively.
one other, semi-related story: if you've been reading the rightie blogs you might've noticed them trumpeting something about some "voter id poster child" who was somehow "busted" which blah blah something or other. if you're like me—and i've been actively following the voter id story for some time—your reaction was probably "who the hell are they talking about? poster child, wtf?"
but, reading through the story, we see that faye buis-ewing is a 72-year-old woman who did not have proper id to vote in 2006, so she went through a four-hour kafkaesque ordeal in order to get id so she could cast her ballot—which she did. this is the kind of story that wouldn't convince voter id proponents anyway—"she got the id and voted, so who cares?", they'd say. but it turns out that the reason she didn't have proper id is because she's a snowbird who winters in florida and thus has a florida id, which poll workers wouldn't accept. she was also registered to vote in florida, although the article states clearly that she had never done so.
right-wingers are crowing that this proves... actually, i'm not even sure what they think this proves. that old ladies get confused by election laws? her story remains the same: an elderly woman spent four hours in bureaucratic limbo in order to get id so she could vote. sounds like an undue hardship to me. she's clearly not someone trying to defraud the electoral system; she's just an old lady who got confused and signed some papers she shouldn't have. whether you like it or not, folks, the constitution guarantees the right to vote to the mildly senile, not just the young & mentally spry. ¶