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Justices weigh burden of voter ID

Women’s league contends law keeps many from polls

– The state’s strict photo identification law went under the microscope Thursday with Indiana Supreme Court justices questioning whether the law creates an unconstitutional burden on voters.

State attorney Thomas Fisher contended the law is simply “another safeguard for fair and honest elections.”

But Karen Celestino-Horseman, attorney on behalf of the Indiana League of Women Voters, said the law goes beyond a simple regulation to being a qualification that bars some people from voting.

“The legislature can’t impose a qualification,” she said. “This particular law crosses a line.”

Indiana’s Republican-backed voter ID law passed in 2005 and requires voters to present a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification at the polls.

A Hoosier who shows up to vote without a picture ID may cast a provisional ballot but must present a photo ID to the county election board within 10 days.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law 6-3 in April 2008 based on provisions the U.S. Constitution. But the Indiana Court of Appeals struck down the law in September based on challenges to two separate provisions in the Indiana Constitution.

The panel of three appellate judges then found that the law violates the Indiana Constitution because it favors Hoosiers using mail-in absentee ballots who do not have to show ID to vote while those voting in person at the polls do.

The League of Women Voters also claims the law is illegal because it is an additional qualification to vote rather than a regulation on voting.

Regulations include such things as being required to register to vote, having specific voting hours and signing the poll book before voting. But an example of a qualification includes a requirement to own property – something struck down by the courts.

Celestino-Horseman pointed out that people who cannot obtain identification have no other alternative if they don’t fit the requirements to vote absentee.

“There is a whole group of folks out there effectively being denied the right to vote,” Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker said.

“How does that inspire confidence?”

And Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. seemed sympathetic to the struggles some might have trying to obtain birth certificates or other documentation in other states to get a state ID or driver’s license here.

“That’s a lot to have to go through for a constitutional right,” he said.

Several justices were disappointed that the League of Women Voters has sued on behalf of its group instead of on behalf of a specific person denied the right to vote under the law, which has been around for nine elections.

Celestino-Horseman briefly cited several instances in her legal briefs but said details on those cases are more appropriate if the lawsuit is not dismissed and is allowed to go forward.

Fisher said there are only a handful of anecdotal cases involving a person being denied the right to vote.

Sullivan pointed out conversely, though, that the only documented cases of voter fraud he is aware of are absentee ballots “and yet no one has to show ID to get an absentee ballot or cast one.”

Fisher also argued that Secretary of State Todd Rokita isn’t the proper defendant to sue because he doesn’t enforce the law – that duty falls upon county election boards.

The court will rule in the coming weeks or months.

nkelly@jg.net

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