Indiana: Requiring IDs, Revoking IDs

February 4, 2008

You can't make this stuff up.

This weekend, the Indianapolis
Star
reported
that the state of Indiana-which is currently defending its law denying the vote
to people without government-issued photo IDs before
the U.S. Supreme Court
-is poised to revoke the IDs of up to 90,000 people.  This ID purge is scheduled to happen later
this month, right in the middle of the primary season in an important
presidential election year, and only weeks before a special
congressional election

This means that, in addition to the 13% of registered
voters in Indiana
who don't have current state-issued photo IDs, up to
90,000 more could be blocked from voting because of Indiana's misguided voter
ID law, the most restrictive such law in the country.  (Caveat: 
the state is not physically collecting the cancelled IDs, and so it is
not clear what will happen when their holders show up to vote.)

And it's even worse than it sounds.  The reason Indiana is planning to revoke these IDs is
because the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles ran a computer check and was
unable to "match" the bearers' information against records kept by the Social
Security Administration.  This kind of computer
matching is a singularly misguided and unreliable way to identify invalid ID
records.  Typos, clerical errors, and
other irrelevant discrepancies in BMV and Social Security databases typically
cause a huge number of match failures between perfectly valid government records.  A person listed as "Bill" on his driver's
license but "William" on his Social Security card will fail to match; so will a
woman whose driver's license is in her married name but whose Social Security
records are in her maiden name. 

When other jurisdictions have tried record
matching in the voting context
, there were match failures for up to 20-30%
of would-be voters.  When they tried to
match records against the Social Security database, as Indiana has done here, the match failures
have risen to 46.2%.  Erroneous match
failures are typically more common for people of color, as the Brennan Center
recently found
when it analyzed Florida's
match files in connection with an ongoing lawsuit.  Again, these match failures are not
indicative of any problems with the voters. 
After initial efforts to investigate these mismatches in Indiana, a BMV
spokesperson admitted
that "[t]he great majority of mismatches that occurred were what we would call
innocent or inadvertent kinds of things."

The bottom line here is that Indiana has just made it doubly difficult
for its citizens to vote.  Not only do they
have to go through the expense and effort to get government-issued photo IDs in
order to vote, but those who already have ID now need to navigate a bureaucratic
obstacle course to make sure that their IDs haven't been bumped.  The ID purge may also circumvent the voter protections
Congress put in place in the Motor Voter law to protect against inaccurate
purges of the voter rolls.

It's almost as though officials in Indiana are trying to keep their citizens-or at least some of their
citizens-from being able to vote. 

Let's hope that Indiana
rescinds its plans to cancel these IDs before its too late.  But more importantly, this incident provides
yet another reason why it doesn't make sense to tie voting rights to
state-issued IDs, and yet another demonstration of the huge number of people
that could be unfairly barred from voting because of Indiana's voter ID law.  Let's hope that the Supreme Court is watching
this current mess when it decides the constitutionality of Indiana's voter ID law.