Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Voter ID

Yesterday the Supreme Court released its decision on the Indiana law requiring a state-issued photographic identification in order to vote. The law passed in the Indiana legislature with unanimous support from the Republican majority, which argued -- wink, wink -- that the measure would prevent voter fraud. No cases of Indiana voter fraud that might have been prevented by the law were ever found.

Six justices voted to uphold the law, writing two separate opinions. In the opinion of Alito, Thomas, and Scalia: "JUSTICE SCALIA, joined by JUSTICE THOMAS and JUSTICE ALITO, was of the view that petitioners’ premise that the voter - identification law might have imposed a special burden on some voters is irrelevant. The law should be upheld because its overall burden is minimal and justified. . . . The different ways in which Indiana’s law affects different voters are no more than different impacts of the single burden that the law uniformly imposes on all voters: To vote in person, everyone must have and present a photo identification that can be obtained for free. This is a generally applicable, nondiscriminatory voting regulation. The law’s universally applicable requirements are eminently reasonable because the burden of acquiring, possessing, and showing a free photo identification is not a significant increase over the usual voting burdens, and the State’s stated interests are sufficient to sustain that minimal burden."

What we appear to have here is a misleading empirical argument (that the photo id is free and easy to obtain). In fact anyone who does not have a driver's license would either have to get one or apply for a special voting identification, to obtain which would require a birth certificate -- and it does take some time and money to go through that process, according to experts. The predictable result is that the elderly and the poor will be less likely to be able to vote. That is not an equal burden as it is experienced in practice. Hence, the law is not "nondiscriminatory" in its effect--and in fact it is pretty clearly designed to have just this discriminatory effect, since those poor and elderly voters would be more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. That's why the law was proposed.

According to a New York Times editorial, "Democracy was the big loser in the Supreme Court on Monday." ("The Court Fumbles on Voting Rights," New York Times, April 29, 2008.)

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