INDIANAPOLIS — The state Court of Appeals has struck down an Indiana law requiring government-issued photo identification for voters, overturning on state constitutional grounds a strict law previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Considered one of the nation's toughest voter-identification laws, it requires that a state or federal photo ID card be presented at the ballot box. Critics have said it disenfranchises some poor, older and minority voters. Supporters contend it is needed to prevent voter fraud at the polls, which critics say is rare.
Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels called the 3-0 ruling Sept. 17 "an act of judicial arrogance."
"It would be one thing if this thing had not already been litigated from the bottom up through the federal system, and multiple court rulings — including the Supreme Court of the United States — hadn't already spoken," Daniels said.
The Indiana Democratic Party previously challenged the law in federal court, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution. But the nation's highest court upheld it 6-3 in April 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which was consolidated with Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita.
In the U.S. Supreme Court cases, Democrats and civil rights groups argued that the voter-ID law violated the First and 14th Amendments, but no First Amendment claims were discussed in the Sept. 17 Indiana ruling.
The League of Women Voters then challenged the law in state courts, arguing it violated the Indiana Constitution by imposing a requirement on some, but not all, voters.
A Marion County judge dismissed the suit in December, but the league appealed, and this time a panel of judges ruled in its favor. In a 29-page ruling, Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote that the trial court must declare the law void because it regulates voters in a way that is not "uniform and impartial."
The judges held that it was irrational to require those who vote in person to verify their identities when those who vote by mail are not required to do so even though absentee voting is more susceptible to fraud. The panel also said the law arbitrarily gives preferential treatment to people who vote in nursing homes where they live because they aren't required to show a photo ID even though other elderly people who vote elsewhere must.
While the nursing-home discrepancy could be remedied easily by requiring those residents to present ID, the treatment favoring absentee voters might require legislation to fix, the judges said.
"We are grateful that the Indiana Court of Appeals has, at least for the time being, put a stop to legislative efforts to single out and burden a class of voters, those who vote in-person, without reasonable or justifiable cause and without any evidence that these burdens were necessary," said Erin Kelley, president of the Indianapolis League of Woman Voters.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he would appeal.
"The state's long-held view is that the Voter ID law is constitutional, and we will vigorously defend the statute in arguing that position before the Indiana Supreme Court," he said.
It was not immediately clear what effect the ruling might have on the 2010 elections. The law remains in effect until the state high court rules on it.
"It would be helpful if the (state) Supreme Court took up the case quickly so election officials have a clear idea what the rules are well before the election takes place," said Mike Pitts, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis who specializes in election law. The Indiana Supreme Court has the ultimate authority because the case deals with a state, not federal, constitutional issue.
Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita sent a letter to local election officials across the state saying the ruling wouldn't be final until it was certified by the state Supreme Court.