All eyes will be on New Hampshire Wednesday morning for the first true primary in the 2008 elections. But even as hardy New Englanders trudge to the polls, something at least as consequential will happening in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a major case on election law.
In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, the court will tackle the issue of vote fraud. The arguments will revive the debate over voter disenfranchisement that raged after the contested presidential election of 2000.
This time the controversy surrounds Indiana’s requirement that voters show photo identification when they cast their ballot. At a time when Americans are asked to show photo ID for routine things such as buying alcohol or getting on an airplane, it hardly seems unreasonable to do the same before voting. There’s also overwhelming public support for voter ID requirements; Rasmussen puts the number at 77 percent approval nationally.
In Indiana, however, a coalition of left-leaning groups -- led by the state Democratic Party and ACLU -- has brought suit against the state, claiming that requiring photo ID at polling places disenfranchises low-income citizens, minorities and seniors -- constituencies considered key to Democratic electoral success..
Claims of disenfranchisement have been rebutted in numerous studies of voter ID requirements. The most recent, a statistical analysis completed by The Heritage Foundation in September, flatly concluded that voter ID laws don’t depress voter turnout.
“Voter identification laws largely do not have the claimed negative impact on voter turnout based on state-to-state comparisons,” David B. Muhlhausen and Keri Weber Sikich wrote in the Heritage study. “In general, respondents in photo identification and non-photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.”
The argument taking place on Wednesday will have a dramatic impact on voter ID requirements throughout the country. The court must determine whether the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, passed in the wake of Bush v. Gore, allowed states to adopt more stringent requirements (as in the case of Indiana) or created a “ceiling” limiting their ability to implement anti-fraud provisions.