Even God couldn't vote in Indiana without proper ID

May 12, 2008|By CYNTHIA TUCKER

Congratulations to the Indiana legislature, whose harsh voter ID law has ferreted out a suspicious bunch who tried to cast ballots without proper identification in the Democratic primary last week. Who do those old ladies think they are, American citizens?

Actually, that's exactly who they are. Several retired nuns who have been voting all their lives were prohibited from casting ballots in South Bend because they didn't have proper ID. The nuns, who live at a convent, went to their polling place on the ground floor. There was absolutely no doubt about their identity, because the poll workers included other nuns from St. Mary's convent, near the University of Notre Dame.

A couple of sisters showed expired passports, but the law doesn't allow those, either. (If you were born in the U.S., that doesn't change, no matter how outdated your passport.) Indiana's law is so restrictive that even out-of-state driver's licenses are not accepted, a significant problem for college students who register to vote while attending Notre Dame, Indiana University or other colleges.

If the absurdity of punitive voter ID laws - adopted in several states with GOP-dominated legislatures - was not apparent before now, this case ought to help all but the most partisan see the fallacy.

Two weeks ago, in a ruling that spurns the universal franchise, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's ID requirements. Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice John Paul Stevens asserted that there was no "concrete evidence of the burden imposed on voters who now lack photo identification."

How about the vicious proposition of throwing out the ballots of elderly nuns, law-abiding citizens who have given their lives to the purest form of service? How about the burden of forcing them to go get a state-sponsored photo ID?

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita was even more contemptuous, telling reporters that "the sisters were aware of the photo ID requirements and chose not to follow them."

Nonsense, says John Borkowski, a South Bend attorney and volunteer election watchdog with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He says some of the nuns - described as mostly in their 80s and 90s and no longer driving - were not aware of the law. A couple of others had tried to get to a motor vehicle office to get an official photo ID but were unable to do so.

"I don't think it's fair to say these are people who chose not to comply with the law," Mr. Borkowski said.

Supporters of harsh voter ID laws claim that state-sponsored photo identification is necessary to prevent in-person fraud at the ballot box. But that sort of illegal voting simply doesn't exist. It's urban legend, like stories of homeless people who are kidnapped for their kidneys.

Yes, yes, I know that voter fraud exists. But the vast majority occurs through absentee ballots, which don't have to be cast in person. If ferreting out fraud were the point of restrictive voter ID laws, state legislatures would tighten the requirements for absentee ballots. There has been precious little of that.

Instead, those who tout the fraud-preventing brilliance of voter ID laws note that those without official IDs could use absentee ballots if they feel so strongly about the franchise. Mr. Rokita offered absentee ballots as Indiana's "safety net" for those without state-sanctioned ID.

So what's the real motive for these punitive voter ID laws? Republicans are trying to block the ballots of a few poor and elderly voters, those least likely to have driver's licenses. It's probably no coincidence that those blocs tend to support Democrats. (Indiana's prohibition against out-of-state licenses would also work against all of those Obama-loving college students.)

President Bush has touted democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, proudly pointing to the purple-ink-stained fingers of voters who were able to cast ballots without fear of political retribution. But in this country, the president's political party denies the ballot to elderly nuns.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears regularly in The Sun. Her e-mail is cynthia@ajc.com.

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