04.28.08

The Supreme Court Decision In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (Voter Identification)

Today the Supreme Court failed to protect access to the ballot box for some of the most vulnerable Americans. We have seen an effort by this administration, its political appointees and some partisans to use the specter of purported “voter fraud” for political advantage. They do so at the expense of vulnerable communities and have excluded millions of elderly, low-income, disabled, and minority voters, even though in-person voter fraud has been proven time and time again to be a myth.

Justice Souter’s dissent rightly observed that “[i]t is simply not plausible to assume here, with no evidence of in-person voter impersonation fraud in a State, and very little of it nationwide, that a public perception of such fraud is nevertheless ‘inherent’ in an election system providing severe criminal penalties for fraud and mandating signature checks at the polls. … The State’s requirements here, that people without cars travel to a motor vehicle registry and that the poor who fail to do that get to their county seats within 10 days of every election, likewise translate into unjustified economic burdens uncomfortably close to the outright $1.50 fee we struck down 42 years ago. Like that fee, the onus of the Indiana law is illegitimate just because it correlates with no state interest so well as it does with the object of deterring poorer residents from exercising the franchise.”

The evidence in the Crawford case did not allow the Court to evaluate the impact it will have on voters in Indiana, so it is not a blanket endorsement of the constitutionality of laws requiring voters to present photo identification. However, the impact of the Court’s divided holding could embolden those partisans determined to use restrictive voter identification laws to elevate politics over fairness and inclusion. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court could not come to a meaningful consensus which would have provided guidance to other States considering such legislation.

I wish the Court instead had drawn a clear line in favor of expanding access to the fundamental franchise of voting. For far too long, our nation tolerated the gulf between our foundational principles and the voting experience for many Americans. We endured a shameful history of barriers erected around the ballot box. Now is not the time to turn back the clock to the days of disenfranchising laws supposedly designed to “protect” the polls. Now more than ever, the myth of in-person voter fraud should not be used to suppress the democratic participation of the American people.

Nothing is more central to our democracy, and to American citizenship, than the right to vote. It is fundamental because it secures the effectiveness of other constitutional rights. Denying a fundamental right -- the right to vote -- because a person is indigent, lacks a birth certificate, or has no access to a vehicle, goes against America’s better values. As the world’s model for democracy, we are a better nation than that.

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