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?
If Mr. Hasen believes that lower-court decisions do not reflect a desire to aid one party or another, he is living in a hermetically - not to mention politically - sealed environment. It is no secret that the Democratic Party, especially, has been "importing" votes in recent years, telling immigrants that Republicans don't want them here and so they had better register to vote and vote for Democrats. Republicans are trying to play catch-up with the alien vote, which is why they have been reluctant to do what is necessary to control the southern border and to enforce immigration laws. Democrats aren't blind. They see Republican approval among Hispanics in decline, and they are taking advantage by escalating the import vote in time for the 2008 election.
The next election, like other recent elections, will determine what kind of judges sit on federal benches as well as how they interpret the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress. If a liberal Democrat wins the White House, more liberal judges will be named to benches and immigration laws - especially voter ID requirements - will not be enforced, producing more votes for Democrats and possibly condemning Republicans to permanent minority status, though immigration will not be the only cause of that.
For the Supreme Court not to uphold the Indiana law would be the ultimate in identity theft. It would legalize voter fraud and might call the legitimacy of every future election into question.
The genius of the American system has been that the losing side mostly accepts the decision of the majority. But if that majority is attained through fraudulent means, this is the stuff that has sparked revolutions in the past and could do so again.