It is a very good thing that the Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will hear arguments as to whether the Indiana Voter ID law is constitutional. Along with the proposed California ballot initiative which, if passed, would change the way electoral votes are allotted in that state (meaning that the Republicans would gain far more than they usually get) and numerous controversies over the use of touch-screen voting machines (mainly, will there be a backup record of these votes) the election of 2008 promises to be a confusing mess once the balloting is over and the counting begins.
Normally speaking, all that is required for a U.S. citizen to vote is a signature in a ballot book. But the Indiana Voter ID law--and others like it around the nation-- insists that voters bring a photo id with them to the polling place, something which is widely seen as an attempt to keep minorities, who often are without proper identification, from voting. Meaning, of course, that Democrats would lose votes.
Those who are proponents of such laws claim that they will cut down on the possibility of voter fraud--voters impersonating other voters, or voting twice, etc.--but in the main, voter fraud in America no longer works this way. It used to. In the 1880s, a decade which is probably more corrupt than any in American presidential electioneering history, operatives of both parties would carry suitcases full of two-dollar bills (the cash was known as "Soapy Sam" for its ability to grease palms) into pivotal states (Indiana was one of them) in order to bribe voters. Each vote, two bucks.
Now, of course, voter fraud is generally perpetrated by political parties who no longer buy votes, but instead attempt to keep people from voting. The most egregious recent example of this was in Ohio, in the 2004 Bush-Kerry contest, when Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell instituted numerous blatant attempts to keep minority Democrats from voting. These included a process known as "caging." In the summer of 2004 the GOP, using zip codes, sent registered letters to 200,000 newly registered voters in urban areas more likely to vote for Kerry. Thirty-five thousand people who refused to sign the letters or whose mail came back marked “undeliverable” were knocked off the voter rolls only two weeks before the election. People were informed of their right to defend their vote only very late in the process; in one county, sheriff deputies allegedly intimated witnesses by showing up at their homes implying they had committed voter fraud by living at a different address than the one from which they had registered.
Also, early in September of 2004, two months before the election, Kenneth Blackwell used an outdated regulation to restrict voter registration. He claimed that the paper registrations needed to be printed on was eighty-pound, unwaxed white paper (postcard paper). This might make sense for registrations going through the mail, but Blackwell insisted that the regulation covered registrations delivered in person, as well, and also that all registrations on different weight paper were retroactively invalid. On September 28, six days before the registration deadline, protests caused Blackwell to rescind his order. But intense chaos had ensued. According to the nonpartisan Greater Cleveland Voting Coalition, at least 15,000 voters lost their ability to vote because of this.
Bush won Ohio and its twenty electoral votes by 116,00 votes. If it had gone the other way, Kerry would be president right now.
The Supreme Court says it will decide the issue of Voter ID laws by June. Not a moment too soon....