"Why do we need this law?" The Indiana Civil Liberties Union's Legal Director Kenneth Falk asked this question last Thursday in connection with a lawsuit the ICLU is filing that challenges Indiana's new Voter ID law. The law, senate Bill 483, which creates the most restrictive voting requirement in the nation, mandates that government-issued photo identification be presented in order for most Hoosier citizens to cast their ballots.
But Falk said that the state has failed to provide evidence that vote fraud is a serious problem in Indiana elections. "Whatever the problem is, it hasn't been pointed out to us."
The ICLU is filing the lawsuit on behalf of a grass-roots coalition of plaintiffs including state Rep. William Crawford, the Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP, United Senior Action, Indianapolis Resource Center for Independent Living, Indiana Coalition for Housing and Homelessness Issues and Concerned Clergy. The plaintiffs say they represent citizens who, because of age, cost or disability, will not be able to vote under the new law.
Falk said the Voter ID bill violates the Voting Rights Act, which guarantees citizens equal protection under the law by putting a cost to voting, which he compared to a poll tax. "This is going to discourage people from voting," he said. "It burdens our most precious right."
The ICLU is seeking an injunction against the law - a legal order issued by a court to strike the law down.
Falk pointed out that for citizens with disabilities and/or limited access to transportation, as well as for people with no fixed address, those confined to group homes or living in isolated rural areas, the process of obtaining a state ID, which requires presentation of an original birth certificate plus secondary documents establishing proof of address, can be onerous and, for some, practically impossible.
Joe Simpson of the Washington Township Board said he finds the new Voter ID requirements redundant in light of the fact that anyone who wishes to vote is already required to possess a voter registration card. The new law, he said, "is a strike against everyday people who want to vote and should vote."
Michelle Niemier, executive director of Senior Action of Indiana, a statewide advocacy organization representing 14,000 dues-paying members, said, "To force thousands of older Hoosiers living in nursing homes, assisted living residences or even in their own homes but who no longer can physically get around to go to the absurd step of getting a 'government issued' ID is the biggest disservice I have heard of in a very long time." She called the new law "a giant leap backwards" from the standpoint of trying to encourage more people to vote.
Falk observed that Indiana is the first state in the country to pass a law like this, adding that the main source of voting irregularities he has been made aware of concern absentee ballots. He asserted that "this isn't a Republican or Democratic suit," and repeated his question: "Why are we doing this?"