Voter ID Law Consequences Mild in Ind.
Updated 8:53 p.m.
By Alec MacGillis
Aside from the eye-catching case of a dozen women of the cloth being turned away at the polls, it does not appear as if Indiana's strict voter identification law, upheld by the Supreme Court last month, has caused major problems during the state's primary today.
The Associated Press reported that 12 nuns were blocked from voting by a fellow nun at a convent in South Bend because the nuns lacked a photo ID. The nuns, all in their 80s or 90s, did not have driver's licenses, and some showed up with outdated passports. Sister Julie McGuire, who turned the nuns away, said they hadn't been given provisional ballots because it would be difficult to get the nuns to a motor vehicle branch for non-driver IDs in time for the 10-day window alloted for provisional IDs. "You have to remember that some of these ladies don't walk well. They're in wheelchairs or on walkers or electric carts," Sister McGuire told the AP.
But there were few other such incidents reported across the state, which has one of the strictest laws in the country, requiring voters to have a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. After the Supreme Court upheld the law by a 6-3 ruling last month, there was widespread speculation that the ruling could hurt Barack Obama in the primary, since he was counting on strong turnout among African American voters in inner-city neighborhoods in Gary and Indianapolis where many residents lack driver's licenses. But Obama spokesman Bill Burton said this evening that the campaign had received only scattered complaints on the voter hotline it set up to deal with problems at the polls. He credited the campaign's aggressive voter outreach effort to make sure supporters had the ID they would need. (Residents without driver's licenses can obtain free picture IDs at DMV branches.)
Bethany Derringer, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Secretary of State's office, said the office also had not received many complaints on a hotline it set up for today's vote. She said that should not come as a surprise, given that the state's voters have had to contend with the strict law since 2005. "We've had nothing earth-shattering," she said. "We've done extensive education on this."
There was one area producing reports of voters being turned away: the state's private colleges. Under the state law, out-of-state students may vote, but only if they have the proper ID. Students at public colleges could use their student IDs, since those are technically "state-issued," but students at private colleges could not. Representatives with the Student PIRG New Voters Project who were stationed at three private colleges -- Notre Dame, St. Mary's College, and Butler University -- for several hours reported more than a dozen instances of students being turned away for not having proper identification.
According to Student PIRG, one student turned away was a sophomore at Notre Dame who arrived with her school ID, a piece of mail with her campus address and her Illinois driver's license, who said she was not informed of her right to cast a provisional ballot. Another Notre Dame sophomore, an Indiana resident, arrived with her school ID and registration confirmation papers from the county registrar, but was turned away. And a sophomore at Butler University was turned away after presenting only her Illinois driver's license.
Sujatha Jahagirdar, a Student PIRG program director, said there were likely many more students turned away than her organization's few canvassers were able to learn of in their few hours on the three campuses. "Given the [dozen reports] in the small sample, it would not be shocking if this were a lot more widespread," she said. "We literally have people who are coming in with an armful of IDs but aren't able to cast a ballot."
At the same time, she said, there were probably not more reports of rejections near college campuses as many students had already left campus after finishing their exams and other students had decided not to bother voting once hearing of the strict rules. "If you erect barriers for voting, turnout for young voters decreases," she said.
As for the dozen excluded nuns, the convent said it would make sure they had IDs in time for the November election. No word on whom they would have voted for today, though given how well Hillary Clinton has done among Catholic voters, as well as older women, one might guess they were leaning her way.
Posted at 6:59 PM ET on May 6, 2008
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