WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court said on Tuesday it would decide whether voters can be required to show photo identification, a move that can limit participation of the elderly and poor in elections.
The justices, acting ahead of next year’s national elections, said they would review Indiana’s voting law, which is considered one of the most restrictive in the country. It requires voters to present photo ID like a driver’s license or passport.
The 2005 law has been challenged by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Indiana Democratic Party, who charge it unfairly limits the right to vote, especially affecting the elderly, poor, disabled or homeless.
Opponents of the law said those people often can’t afford the costs of obtaining identification documents or have trouble negotiating the bureaucracy involved in applying for them.
Indiana was one of a number of states to enact such laws in the wake of voter fraud allegations in Florida and elsewhere during the closely fought 2000 elections.
Before 2002, few states had voter identification requirements and no state required photo identification. Now, 26 states have some form of a voter identification law, and six states require photo identification at the time of voting.
The only exception to the proof-of-identification requirement in Indiana is if the person lived in a state-licensed facility, such as a nursing home, and voted there.
The Indiana law was one of 17 cases the Supreme Court agreed to decide during its upcoming term that begins on October 1. The justices met on Monday to review some 2,000 appeals that piled up during their three-month summer recess and selected the 17 cases to decide.
Attorneys challenging the Indiana law urged the Supreme Court to resolve the law’s constitutionality, calling it an issue of great national importance ahead of the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.
A U.S. appeals court upheld the law, acknowledging it would discourage some people from voting and was more likely to deter Democratic voters than Republicans.
The attorneys who brought the challenge welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to review the law.
“There’s no right more important than the right to vote,” said Ken Falk, the ACLU’s legal director in Indiana. “If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that each vote matters.”
Angela Ciccolo of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said: “The right to vote is a fundamental element of our democracy. Undue burdens should be removed wherever they arise, and all citizens should be encouraged to participate.”
Indiana officials opposed the appeal.
State Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said granting Supreme Court review of the issue now would likely prompt a spate of lawsuits across the nation that would disrupt the 2008 presidential primaries and create new uncertainty over the validity of all voter identification requirements.
He said the justices should wait for another case after the 2008 elections.
But the Supreme Court rejected that recommendation. It is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision due by the end of June.