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Wednesday, October 18, 2006 

Seventh Circuit and Voter ID

Today, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the appellate court that has stolen my heart, heard oral argument in Crawford v Rokita. In this case, a group of individuals and the Indiana Democratic Party are challenging Indiana's voter ID law. The Democrats are saying that the law is unfair to the poor, the elderly, and minorities who do not have photo ID or have difficulties obtaining it.

Rick Hasen of the Election Law Blog has a link to the oral argument audio and some analysis. The three judge panel was excellent. It consisted of Judge Posner, Judge Evans, and Judge Sykes. Posner captained the oral argument ship as usual, but Evans and Sykes asked some good questions as well. The facts involved made the case pretty interesting. There hasn't been a single instance of voter fraud being prosecuted. The state is relying on the findings of the Carter-Baker commission about the risks of voter fraud to justify the law. On the other hand, none of the plaintiffs are people who lack voter ID, which brings up issues of standing.

Hasen thinks that Posner may have tipped his hand regarding his vote, based on his line of questioning...
Judge Posner said that the test is not whether this is a narrowly tailored law. There are voting rights on both sides of the case. The fraud dilutes the voting rights of those who vote legitimately. Challengers say the fraud problem is small, and state says burden is small. I think he is likely, though not certain, to vote to uphold the law, given what he sees as a lack of evidence on either side of either a great benefit or burden. Doubt goes to the state. It was unclear to me how the other judges were leaning.
I think Hasen is right, and Posner is leaning towards upholding the law. He made a big deal about the fact that the amount of people truly affected by this law is very small. Judge Evans seems more concerned about the time frame involved and the difficulty that people will have in obtaining their materials. This is especially true for people who were born out of state and need their birth certificate. I think he's likely to strike down the law. Judge Sykes is harder to read, mostly because she asked the fewest questions. My gut says that she would side with Posner, but my gut is infamously stupid.

There is a national trend among the courts to strike down these voter ID laws. The Missouri Supreme Court struck down their state's voter ID law, a Georgia court found their law unconstitutional, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently blocked Arizona's law. If the Seventh Circuit upholds this law, it would be a significant change in the momentum of this kind of litigation. Hasen thinks that this case or at least this issue could end up before the Supreme Court if the Seventh Circuit upholds. I'll be waiting eagerly for this decision.

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