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ACLU of New Mexico, et al. v. Santillanes

Published: September 17, 2007

Voting Rights & Elections

The Brennan Center has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in an appeal of the district court’s decision in ACLU of New Mexico v. Santillanes, which struck down an Albuquerque law requiring all citizens to present photo ID as a condition of voting.  As in its amicus brief with the trial court, the Brennan Center argued that impersonation fraud is an extremely unlikely and unsubstantiated occurrence that can be prevented without the burden involved in requiring a photo ID and that the Albuquerque law is therefore unjustified. The Center’s brief marshalled the best evidence on individual voter fraud and catalogued the practices in other states for preventing voter fraud without resorting to photo ID.

In its opinion below, the district court followed much of the analytical framework presented in the Center’s amicus brief, with substantial additional emphasis on legal claims derived from Bush v. Gore. The Court noted that the Albuquerque defendants presented evidence of only one incident in which a single individual’s vote was allegedly stolen by an impersonator at the polls – and that election officials with at least a decade of accumulated experience identified no other complaint, charge, or prosecution of any other incident of voter impersonation at the polls. The court also acknowledged that the city’s photo ID requirement was poorly tailored to address the forms of voter fraud that may actually occur. Finally, following Bush v. Gore, the court expressed concern that different election officials would deem different forms of photo ID to be “current and valid” – with some officials rejecting identification that others would accept. As a result, both the bureaucratic hurdles involved in obtaining photo ID and the arbitrary chance that this ID would be rejected presented a substantial obstacle to legitimate voters, and resulted in a significant and unjustified burden on the right to vote.

Argument in the Tenth Circuit has not yet been scheduled.

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