Voter ID laws are back in the news. Curiously, the most recent action concerns one of the oldest cases. Judge Richard Posner wrote the 2007 appellate opinion upholding Indiana’s strict photo ID law — the first legal one in the country — against a challenge. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the 2008 opinion for the Supreme Court upholding that upholding. Both have recently publicly mused about the merits of arguments by the judges that disagreed. That sort of reflective appreciation for the opposing view is sufficiently unusual that it has provoked a flood of commentary. And that flood of commentary has largely lost sight of two very important distinctions. First: ID laws are not all the same. Every state makes sure, when people come to the polls, that they are who they say they are. It’s the details of how they do this that matter. Some states compare signatures. Many see whether they can match up Social Security digits, or ask for a document like a utility bill or paycheck, off a long list. Some have a shorter list of approved documents. Some ask for a government-issued photo ID card from those who have one, and demand a special affidavit from those who do not.
And some now require specific photo ID cards from all but the legally indigent, preventing eligible voters who do not have photo ID on Election Day from casting a valid ballot at the polls. (Most such states have more lax documentary requirements for voting absentee.) Even within this category, there is variety: some accept student IDs, for example, and some do not.
The vast majority of Americans have valid photo IDs. But some don’t. And without ID, it can be hard to get ID. These Americans are at the nub of the controversy. ID rules raise few eyebrows when eligible citizens aren’t left behind — when security comes with a safety net so that real eligible citizens don’t get shut out. But when the rules get sufficiently restrictive that real people have problems, disputes follow.
There are still few states in this most restrictive set. Indiana and Georgia were first, with laws passed in 2005; Missouri followed in 2006; Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin in 2011; Pennsylvania in 2012; and Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia in 2013.
Court challenges have followed in each state but Arkansas and Virginia. Laws have been invalidated in Missouri and (for the moment) Wisconsin, and blocked temporarily in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas. But ID lawsuits are not all the same either.
Full Article: Voter ID update: the diversity in the details.