Indiana Court of Appeals Strikes Down Voter ID Law


September 17, 2009

 An Indiana appellate court on Thursday struck down a state law requiring voters to show identification — a law that the United States Supreme Court declared constitutional just last year.

 The court said the law violated the Indiana constitution by not treating all voters impartially.

 The state legislature passed the voter ID law in 2005, and it was challenged in federal court. The Supreme Court found the law constitutional in April 2008. In July of that year, however, the League of Women Voters brought a new suit in state court.

 The major difference between Thursday’s state court decision and the Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is that the state court was interpreting the state constitution, while the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution of the United States. Generally, state courts are given the last word in interpreting their own constitutions.

Indiana’s “Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause” is similar to the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution. But the unanimous three-judge panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals found that the voter ID law violated the guarantee of equal protection for all citizens because it did not require mail-in voters and residents of some nursing homes to produce state-approved identification.

 Under Indiana law, the court said, it could be reasonable to regulate absentee balloting more stringently than in-person balloting. But the voter ID law does the opposite, the court argued, and “imposes a less stringent requirement for absentee voters than for those voting in person.”

 Voter ID laws have been a contentious issue in state legislatures around the country. They are largely supported by Republican lawmakers and conservative groups, who say the laws are necessary to combat voter fraud. Critics of voter ID legislation, including many Democratic lawmakers, say that the laws are designed to reduce the participation of low-income voters, and argue that while fraudulent names on voter rolls in registration drives may not be uncommon, few instances of actual fraud at the polls by imposters have been detected.

 Professor Hasen said the decision, and a similar case in Missouri in 2006, suggests that the federal courts, once a bastion of voters’ rights, could be taking a back seat to more liberal state courts as the Supreme Court hardens along conservative lines.

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