Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Restrictive Voter ID Law

In a disappointing turn of events, Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled 4-1 in favor of the state’s voter ID law, overturning last year’s decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals that deemed voter ID requirements unconstitutional partly because it treated those casting absentee ballots differently from those at voting booths.  But in the end, the Indiana Supreme Court majority opinion stated, “It is within the power of the legislature to require voters to identify themselves at the polls using a photo ID.”

Disenfranchising Voters:  While most states allow non-photo identification to establish identity, such as utility bills, payroll checks, or other government documents, Indiana only accepts photo ID’s issued by the state or federal government.  Though the state allows those without ID’s to vote on provisional ballots, their votes are only counted if they are able to present proper ID within ten days.

The problem is that, while most Americans have government-issued ID’s, studies show that 6-10% of eligible voters don’t have a state-issued driver’s license or ID card, which amounts to potentially disenfranchising as many as 20 million people nationwide who are disproportionately poor, urban, non-white, and elderly. 

  • The American Association of People with Disabilities further estimates that more than three million people with disabilities similarly do not possess state-issued photo ID. 
  • Some US citizens — such as Native Americans born on reservations, and elderly African Americans born in the South under the care of midwives — were never issued birth certificates in the first place, a major roadblock to obtaining a state-issued photo ID.
  • Victims of natural disasters, such as Katrina, may also have had their original birth certificates destroyed. 

A De Facto Poll Tax:  In all cases, replacing these documents can be expensive and time-consuming — a new birth certificate can cost more than $40, while a new passport costs $97.  Replacement citizenship documents for naturalized Americans costs $220.  De facto poll tax aside, processing these requests can take as long as a year — during which time an otherwise eligible voter cannot vote.

And photo IDs don’t always reflect current information.  Surveys show that only 48% of voting-age women with ready access to their birth certificates have a certificate with their current legal name, while only 66% of voting-age women with access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.  10% of all voting-age citizens have a photo ID that does not reflect their current address and current legal name.  Among those aged 18-24, the percentage increases to 18%. 

The burden of voter ID laws is real, and suppresses the vote of a demographic that is overwhelmingly poor, urban, non-white, and elderly.  The decision of Indiana’s Supreme Court will only serve to further disenfranchise an already-disenfranchised population.

Progressive States Network - Voter ID Law Struck Down by Indiana Appellate Court
Demos Briefing Paper Series: Challenges to Fair Elections -  Issue: Voter ID/proof of citizenship requirements for voting and registration
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Survey Indicates House Bill Could Deny Voting Rights to Millions of U.S. Citizens
NAACP Legal Defense Fund - Restrictive Voter Identification Laws: A Barrier to the Ballot Box for Eligible Voters
The Brennan Center for Justice - Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans’ Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification
League of Women Voters v. Rokita