May 9, 2008

Supreme Court's voter ID decision is a blow to democracy

By David A. Love
Progressive Media Project and McClatchy-Tribune News Service
May 7, 2008

By upholding Indiana's voter ID law, the Supreme Court struck another blow to civil rights and equality in the United States.

In its 6-3 decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the court ruled that the law, which requires Indiana voters to show photo identification at the polls, is constitutional.

But the law was devised with partisan motives in mind. The Republican-dominated legislature enacted it in 2005 against the wishes of Democrats and civil rights advocates who were concerned that it would deny equal access to the voting booth.

Why? Because the law places an unfair burden on the poor, minority groups, students, the disabled and the elderly, groups that are least likely to have proper ID.

Voter ID laws like Indiana's harken to the days of Jim Crow, when states required blacks to pay poll taxes and pass literacy tests, or answer questions as inane as "how many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" in order to vote.

In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, said the burden the law imposes is minimal and even-handed, and that the law is justifiable since it aims to "protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself." Also siding with the majority, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that the Indiana law is "eminently reasonable.

The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not `even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.'"

The dissenting justices, Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, concluded that the law "threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting right of tens of thousands of the State's citizens." They added that a "significant percentage of those individuals are likely to be deterred from voting."

The dissenting opinion also took issue with Indiana's provisional ballot system. Voters who do not have an ID can cast a provisional ballot. The ballot becomes validated only if the person appears in court or before the county election board within 10 days of the election and can establish his or her identity. Someone without an ID would be required to repeat this process in every subsequent election. This is a burden for indigent voters in a state that lacks public transportation in many areas.

Ironically, the issue of voter fraud - the reason that some Republican lawmakers use to justify voter ID laws - is a red herring. There is very little evidence of voter fraud in the United States. Yet the Supreme Court cited voter fraud as the primary reason for upholding the Indiana law.

It is unfortunate that the highest court in the land has turned its back on voting rights for all Americans. Voting should be made easier, not harder. By giving the green light for states to enact such repressive laws, they are enabling those who would turn the clock back on civil rights in this country.

In an election year where millions of new voters are being brought into the democratic process, this should concern us all.

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