April 28, 2008

Vote Suppression In Indiana

The Supreme Court today upheld Indiana's voter id law requiring voters to show a photo ID in order to be allowed to vote. Opponents of the law argued state laws designed to stem voter fraud will disenfranchise large numbers of Indiana voters who might lack proper documents to prove their voting eligibility. They argued that the burden imposed by the law of obtaining photo ID would keep a non trivial number of people from exercising their right to vote, particularly those who go to the polls to vote and are turned away for lack of proper ID. The law permits those to fill out a provisional ballot, but they must then go to the circuit clerks office to verify their identity before that vote can be counted. The law was passed to prevent a particular brand of voter fraud, voter impersonation, in Indiana. There has never been a case of voter impersonation in Indiana's recorded history.

Some reaction around the blogosphere:

From LaShawn Barber:
I’m pleased the court understands that no matter who you are, what color, or how old, you’re expected to be a responsible, law-abiding citizen reasonably intelligent enough to get yourself down to the local DMV and obtain a driver’s license or non-driver’s license ID before you can vote.
I have yet to see what the problem was with Voter ID. You need it to cash a check, rent a car and in some cases get into a bar. So I don’t see what the big deal is. And to make matters worse, Voter ID has been on the books for two years if you haven’t gotten an ID by now, maybe you shouldn’t be going to the polls.
I agree with both of the sentiments above. I do not believe the argument that this law is unduly burdensome on the right to vote is a particularly strong one. Because the fundamental right to vote is whats involved here, you can certainly make the argument that we ought to weigh the issue of placing burdens, impediments or any level of inconvenience on the exercise of that right very carefully. Nonetheless its a tough argument to make that asking of people to show photo ID as we do in order for them to do a whole slew of other everyday activities is so unduly burdensome as to rise to the level of a constitutional violation of the basic rights of citizens. Moreover, the solution is pretty simple which is that people should do something they ought to do in any event which is to obtain legal ID. For those of us who worry that people will be disenfranchised by this, mobilizing ourselves to make sure that the vast majority of the community is empowered with ID to cast their vote is what we should be doing. Legislatively, there is no reason that the law cannot be amended to make its provisions regarding provisional ballots and mechanisms for obtaining ID easier and more convenient.

Having said all that, lets also keep it real. This law was intended to suppress votes. It was championed by the republicans, ostensibly to prevent voter impersonation fraud, a crime which has never been committed and which as a potential corruptive influence on elections is really a fairly remote possibility. As a practical matter, you are not going to get enough people to participate in a conspiracy to affect an election by impersonating voters which would have any appreciable effect. So the republicans fought hard and we spent state dollars to defend a law that doesn't solve a real problem. That means that it was really intended for other purposes and that purpose was to suppress a class of voters who are typically expected to fall into the democratic column.

Now that the Supremes have upheld it, we can expect to see a slew of similar laws around the country that are put forward by republicans ostensibly to prevent voter impersonation, but as this is an imaginary problem, are really being passed for their effect of suppressing some voters. I will not be surprised to see other types of restrictions or requirements passed which use other types of potential vote fraud as justification. The result within a few years may be a slew of restrictions which when viewed as a whole operate to suppress a significant number of voters. This kind of rigging of democracy is quite frankly, evil. We as republicans should stand for the expansion of the franchise, not its suppression. This is the type of dubious legislative action which keeps me a reluctant republican.