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Legal Voter Disenfranchisement – Coming Soon To A State Near You

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Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

By Erin Ferns

Supreme Court Legalizes Voter Disenfranchisement

In the midst of a presidential election year that is seeing record-breaking voter turnout in state after state, the Supreme Court on April 28 ruled in favor of Indiana's draconian voter ID requirement. The controversial law - which requires all voters to provide government issued, photographic proof of identity in order to vote at the polls - threatens to create a legislative domino effect of new voter ID laws ready for implementation before November.

"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," wrote Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers.

"And civil rights activists say that there is little history of voter fraud in Indiana,"according to BBC News. The news service quoted Democratic Senator Charles Schumer: "This decision is a body blow to what America stands for - equal access to the polls."

Voter ID requirements would indeed hinder access to the polls, according to a 2006 study by Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The study found 25 percent of black and 16 percent of Latino voting age citizens do not have valid identification, compared to eight percent of white voting age citizens. Likewise, voting age citizens earning less than $35,000 per year are twice as likely to be without valid ID than those earning more. Finally, young and elderly voting age citizens would be greatly affected by ID requirements as four million and six million respectively do not have valid forms of identification.

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Academic studies on states with active photo ID laws reflect similar statistics. A 2007 University of Washington study of Indiana's voter ID requirement found 21.8 percent of black voters lack required ID, compared to 15.8 percent of whites. Among Indiana voters earning below $40,000 per year, 21.1 percent lack proper ID compared to the 12.7 percent that earn more. Most affected by ID requirements is Indiana's young voting population with 22 percent lacking required ID. Minority voters in Georgia also disproportionately lack identification, according 2007 University of Georgia study, which found 6.8 percent of black and 7.2 percent of Latino registered voters without driver's licenses, compared to just 3.7 percent of whites.

"The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing for Americans who want the next president to be chosen in a free and fair election in which all eligible voters have an equal opportunity to participate. The voters most harmed by the ruling are first-time voters who are registering this year in record numbers," said Donna Massey, Project Vote Board Member and a supporter of voting rights in a statement Monday.

"The only reason politicians support these laws is to give their party an advantage over the other," she said. "The Supreme Court took note of the partisan nature of the photo ID rules. The Court's opinion in the case said it was 'fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role' in enacting the photo ID law.

"This ruling sends an unfortunate green light to legislators in the 24 states that are still considering strict photo voter ID laws... Too many Americans of color are met at their polling places with long lines, partisan challengers, faulty equipment and needlessly strict photo ID requirements."

The "green light" on voter ID is not only expected to give the go-ahead to legislators, but will potentially confuse poll workers and voters on Election Day in states without ID requirements, according to Ian Urbina of the New York Times. Urbina quoted Jonah Goldman of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: "Even before the verdict, we saw confusion surrounding voter ID laws, and now voters and poll workers are more likely to think the Supreme Court just approved some national voter ID law, which indeed they did not."

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The impact of the decision is also expected to be put to the test in Indiana's primary election next Tuesday, which, coupled with the anticipated large turnout, will "provide a good set of circumstances to evaluate the law's impact on voters," according to AHN Media.

Current Voter ID Laws Bring Lawsuits and Deter Voters

"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," wrote Gordon. Among those states is Georgia, which recently had a lawsuit against the law pending on the Supreme Court ruling.

Although the high court ruled in favor of photo ID, the challenge will go forward. But "the case is likely to face an uphill battle," wrote Shannon McCaffrey of the Associated Press. In 2005, Georgia's initial voter law was struck down as an unconstitutional poll tax. It was later approved after revision to provide free ID for indigent voters.

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