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Court ruling on voter ID not much of an issue in Ohio



Published: Wed, April 30, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

Court ruling on voter ID not much of an issue in Ohio

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law was unusual in a couple of ways.

For one, on an issue that is almost perfectly split along party lines in Congress and in state legislatures, the court ruled in favor of a required photo ID for voters by 6-3, with Justice John Paul Stevens, generally part of the liberal bloc, writing the decision.

For another thing, the court took notice of the lack of evidence that anyone had been prevented from voting by the ID requirement. At the same time, however, the majority decision ignored the lack of evidence that a fraudulent vote had ever been cast that would have been prevented by the ID law.

The court’s ruling will have no effect in Ohio, which has a voter ID law that is not as stringent as Indiana’s. The Ohio law allows for a variety of documents to be used to establish identity. The Indiana law, however, requires a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, which must have a current and be renewed from time to time.

Indiana’s claim that 99 percent of the state’s voters already have such identification impressed the majority of the court, but in his dissent, Justice David H. Souter said that means as many as 43,000 Indiana residents lack the required ID cards. If they want to vote, they must go to the county seat with a birth certificate.

It is understandable that the court would want to protect the integrity of elections in the country — even in the absence of any evidence that voters were assuming false identities to vote in Indiana.

Parties will work harder

The ruling will simply put more pressure on both political parties to make sure that their potential voters are registered and have identity cards. Party workers can also be expected to do what they can to get voters who vote provisional ballots back to the board of elections with a proper ID so that their votes will count.

If there are any clear losers, it would be independent voters, who won’t have a party support system. They’re on their own.

And, as Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner warned, there is a possibility that some political operatives will attempt to use the court decision to create voter confusion in the state. Both parties have been accused of trying to manipulate voter registration rolls in the state.

It is not an accident that the voter ID issue has split along party lines. Democrats claim that people without photo ID tend to be old, poor urban residents — people who are more likely to vote Democratic. Republicans dismiss concerns by saying, essentially, what the Supreme Court said Monday: Getting the necessary identification is not an onerous burden.

But what happens if, for instance, Democrats were to find that absentee voting tended to favor Republicans, and if Democratic legislatures then began to tighten up on absentees? By the logic the court used Monday — even if new voting rules were supported exclusively by one party over another — that would not be proof of wrongdoing. The court would be virtually powerless to step in. And, it would probably be easier to dig up a case or two of voter fraud involving absentee ballots than fraudulent voting at the polls.

Those who are applauding the Supreme Court the loudest this week could be the ones complaining most bitterly some day in the future.

That in itself is unsettling. Political parties are supposed to work to win the hearts and minds of voters, not scheme to keep the other guy from being able to vote.


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