High court lets voter ID rule stand in Arizona

October 21, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court cleared the way yesterday for Arizona to enforce a new rule for next month's elections that requires voters to show proof of their identification before casting a ballot.

In an unsigned and apparently unanimous opinion, the justices reversed a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that had blocked the Arizona law from taking effect this year.

The justices stressed that they were not ruling on the still-pending constitutional challenge to the law. They also noted that the law includes some exceptions for eligible voters without photo identification.

Nonetheless, yesterday's order is likely to be seen as a benefit for Republican candidates and a setback for the Democrats.

In recent years, Republicans in Congress and in many state capitals have pressed for voter identification requirements at the ballot box, which they say are needed to combat fraudulent voting.

These laws have been opposed by Democrats and civil rights advocates, who say that there is little evidence of such fraud and allege that the requirements are designed to suppress voting by poor, elderly, disabled or minority persons who do not have a government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license.

In recent weeks, courts have blocked new voter ID laws in Georgia and Missouri. A challenge to an Indiana law is before an appeals court.

The Arizona measure was approved in 2004 by 56 percent of the state's voters as part of Proposition 200. Most of the controversy over this initiative involved its provisions cutting off public benefits to immigrants.

Under Arizona's law, eligible voters may vote up to five days before Election Day, if they do not have the required identification. This gives election officials time to match their signature with voter rolls.

On Election Day, they may cast a provisional ballot, but the vote will be counted only if they furnish the required identification within the next five days.

In May, the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and several other civil rights groups sued to block the voter identification rule from being enforced on Nov. 7. They called the rule a "21st Century poll tax" because it could force some poor voters to purchase a photo ID badge.

Some voting-rights experts also said that this requirement could significantly depress voting by the state's Navaho Indians.

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