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Indiana: Requiring IDs, Revoking IDs

You can’t make this stuff up: This weekend, the Indianapolis Star reported that the state—which is currently defending its law denying the vote…

February 5, 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.