As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, April 28, 2008

About That Voter Registration Drive

It had better come with a trip to the DMV:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.

In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana's strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to deter fraud.

It was the most important voting rights case since the Bush v. Gore dispute that sealed the 2000 election for George W. Bush.

Stevens actually wrote one of the majority opinions in this one, in addition to the conservative bloc and Kennedy joining the ruling.

This is, as we know, a solution in search of a problem. Voter fraud is a made-up conservative issue, backed by no evidence. While Stevens suggested that there are no "excessively burdensome requirements" imposed on voters who must show ID at the polls, he's answering an unknowable question. We simply have no idea how photo ID centers (if there will be any outside the DMV) in Indiana or anywhere else would be managed, whether the same groups that truck elderly and poor voters to the polls on Election Day will be able to do the same to get people their IDs, and so on. If they require the same documentation that the DMV does, many poor and elderly people simply don't have them. If it requires an application fee, how is that not a poll tax?

Justice Scalia's broader ruling shows exactly what Republicans want out of this:

Scalia, favoring a broader ruling in defense of voter ID laws, said, "The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are eminently reasonable. The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.'"

But during the arguments, Scalia conceded that such laws would "inconvenience... a small number of people," and the Solicitor General for the state of Indiana actually said that "an infinitesimal portion of the electorate could even be, conceivably be, burdened by" the ID law.

You know, that's how the 14th Amendment WORKS, with equal protection for all, even that "infinitesimal portion of the electorate". And, as Amanda Terkel notes, that's a major soft-pedal of the impact:

Voter ID laws, however, affect more than an "infinitesimal" number of Americans and are more than a "minor inconvenience." According to the federal government, there are as many as 21 million voting-age Americans without driver's licenses. In Indiana, 13 percent of registered voters lack the documents needed to obtain a license, and therefore, cast a ballot. These restrictions disproportionately hit low-income, minority, handicapped, and elderly voters the hardest, leading to lower levels of voter participation.

Those affected also tend to vote Democratic, which may explain why Karl Rove and his colleagues have pursued so-called voter fraud with such zeal. Several U.S. attorneys ousted in the Bush administration's infamous prosecutor purge even alleged that they were fired because they refused to aggressively prosecute baseless voter fraud claims.

Considering that we have at least one Democratic campaign predicated on bringing new voters to the process, this is an incredibly calamitous outcome that could upset the entire effort. Somebody in the Obama campaign had better get out in front of this; the courts are already stacked against them.

UPDATE: I found the part of the majority opinion referring to whether or not there's an application fee for a driver's license. Part of this is unbelievable (emphasis mine):

(c) The relevant burdens here are those imposed on eligible voters who lack photo identification cards that comply with SEA 483. Because Indiana’s cards are free, the inconvenience of going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, gathering required documents, and posing for a photograph does not qualify as a substantial burden on most voters’ right to vote, or represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting. The severity of the somewhat heavier burden that may be placed on a limited number of persons—e.g., elderly persons born out-of-state, who may have difficulty obtaining a birth certificate—is mitigated by the fact that eligible voters without photo identification may cast provisional ballots that will be counted if they execute the required affidavit at the circuit court clerk’s office. Even assuming that the burden may not be justified as to a few voters, that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek.

See, they can just cast provisional ballots! And we all know that every single one of those are counted.

UPDATE II: These Democrats registering in record numbers might all have to re-register or obtain their ID cards before registering or any number of shenanigans in states where the election apparatus is controlled by Republicans. There are fortunately less of them now (Ohio, for example is safely in Democratic hands), but the precedent here is really, really bad.

UPDATE III: Publius at Obsidian Wings has an interesting take on why Stevens joined this opinion.

But that leads back to Justice Stevens. Whatever else you might think about him, Stevens is the most politically savvy Justice. My take is that Stevens knew it was a lost cause — Kennedy must have signaled that he would uphold the law. Thus, Stevens managed to maintain the viability of more narrow “as applied” challenges by upholding the law on more narrow grounds.

In other words, Scalia and pals would have shut down all possible challenges if they could have had a 5-4 opinion all to themselves. By picking off Roberts and Kennedy, Stevens maintained the ability of plaintiffs to bring “as applied” challenges. Or to be more cynical, he kicked the can down the road hoping for a better Court in the future.

That sounds right to me. Kennedy tipped his hand on joining the conservative bloc when the case was argued. The loss of "facial challenges" in this case is disturbing because it would be far more difficult for these "as applied" challenges to result in an actual change in votes. But it offers a small sliver of hope for the future.

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