WASHINGTON, Sep 25 (Reuters) The Supreme Court said today it would rule on whether US voters must show a government-issued photo identification at the polls, a divisive issue ahead of next year's national elections.
The justices said they would review a US appeals court ruling that upheld an Indiana law considered the most restrictive in the nation requiring voters to present a photo ID issued by the state or federal government, such as a driver's license or a passport.
The 2005 law, which applies to both primary and general elections, has been challenged by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Indiana Democratic Party for imposing an unfair burden on the right to vote, especially on the elderly, poor, disabled or homeless.
Indiana was one of a number of states to enact such laws in the wake of voter fraud allegations in Florida and elsewhere during the closely fought 2000 elections.
Before 2002, few states had voter identification requirements and no state required photo identification. Now, 26 states have some form of a voter identification law, and six states require photo identification at the time of voting.
The only exception to the proof-of-identification requirement in Indiana is if the person lived in a state-licensed facility, such as a nursing home, and voted there.
MAY DETER DEMOCRATS FROM VOTING The Indiana law was one of 17 cases the Supreme Court agreed to decide during its upcoming term that begins on October 1. The justices met yesterday to review some 2,000 appeals that piled up during its three-month summer recess and selected the 17 cases to decide.
Attorneys challenging the Indiana law urged the Supreme Court to resolve the law's constitutionality, calling it an issue of great national importance ahead of the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.
The appeals court upheld the law, even though it acknowledged it would deter some people from voting, and that those deterred are more likely to vote for Democratic rather than Republican candidates.
The lawyers challenging the law said the appeals court's decision undermined the fundamental right of individuals to vote.
Indiana officials opposed the appeal.
State Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said granting Supreme Court review of the issue now would likely prompt a spate of lawsuits across the nation that would disrupt the 2008 presidential primaries and create new uncertainty over the validity of all voter identification requirements.
He said the justices should wait for another case after the 2008 elections.
But the Supreme Court rejected that recommendation. It is expected to hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision due by the end of June.
REUTERS AE PM2125