The answer to a cynic's question "Do elections matter?" may be partially found in the way judges have handled an Indiana voter photo ID law that requires people to prove their identity before they can vote. The Supreme Court will begin 2008 by hearing arguments in one of the most volatile political cases to come before it since Bush vs. Gore in the 2000 presidential election.
As The Washington Post noted in a front-page Christmas Day story, deciding the case may depend on where a judge stands politically, as much as where that judge stands constitutionally. Appellate judges named by Republican presidents have mostly favored the ID requirement. Appellate judges named by Democrats have mostly opposed it.
The Post interviewed Richard L. Hasen, an election-law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. It summarized his position on the controversy this way: "Hasen does not believe that the (lower court) decisions reflect a desire to aid one political party over another, but rather a philosophical divide on the question of whether protecting the integrity of the voting process from fraud is of equal or greater value than making sure as many eligible voters as possible take part in the process."
Come again? If potential voters are illegal aliens (or convicted felons, or do not live where they claim) without proper IDs, how can they possibly be "eligible" to vote? How is a voter registrar to determine whether someone is, in fact, eligible without some form of legitimate identification?
The list of examples of situations in which a valid ID is required is long and growing longer. Try buying an airplane ticket without a driver's license or passport. Try passing through TSA without a government-issued ID.
Recently, I called my credit card company, and before the customer service person would consider the purpose of my call, she asked me a list of questions to make sure of my identity. It was the same when I called my cell phone company, except that there were even more questions, including the last four numbers on my Social Security card, the amount of my last bill and my mother's maiden name. "We have to be sure you are who you say you are, Mr. Thomas," said the woman.
If the airlines, TSA, credit card and cell phone companies require me to prove who I am, why is it a problem when it comes to voting?