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  • Revisiting the Supreme Court's Rebuttal of Voter ID Detractors

    The Justice Department’s lawsuit against South Carolina has rekindled political war over state voter identification laws. While the merits of the suit will surely be hashed out in the political arena, the Supreme Court has in fact weighed in on the constitutional arguments offered by opponents of voter ID laws, and found them wanting.

    In light of the issue’s prevalence, it’s worth revisiting that decision to see what the nation’s highest court had to say about voter ID laws.

    Opponents of those laws usually make a pair of arguments against them: they claim the laws impose overly burdensome restrictions on voting, and that they are a solution in search of a problem, given the relatively low incidence of voter fraud. Neither of those arguments stands up to the Supreme Court’s thorough examination of the issue.

    In the 2008 case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the court upheld an Indiana voter ID law, which the National Conference of State Legislatures classifies as one of the strictest in the nation. The law requires voters to present a photo ID at polling places. Those who can’t may cast a provisional ballot, which will only be counted if the voter affirms the ballot in person – with a photo ID – within 10 days.

    The Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, finding that “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.” It’s also worth noting that prior to enacting the voter ID law, Indiana did charge for photo IDs. A provision in the law repealed that fee, presumably to rescind financial barriers to voting. Like Indiana, South Carolina offers free IDs to state residents.

    The majority opinion, written by then-Justice John Paul Stevens – no conservative stalwart – examined each of the objections offered to this day in opposition to voter ID laws. Let us review each in turn.

    Claim: Voter ID laws are excessively and prohibitively burdensome

    Indiana provides a free identification card to any resident who requests one from the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Traveling to the BMV and requesting one, therefore, is the extent of the restrictions on voting.

    Even voters who show up to the polls on election day without an ID, as mentioned above, can cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted as long as the voter visits the election board within 10 days of the election, and produces a photo ID or a valid objection to having one (indigence or religious belief).

    The free IDs and provisional ballots mitigate any excessively burdensome voting restrictions, the court ruled. Voters who simply do not have an ID can easily obtain one: “the inconvenience of making a trip to the BMV, gathering the required documents, and posing for a photograph,” Stevens wrote, “surely does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote, or even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.”

    For certain classes of voters, however, those requirements may provide additional burdens. Those include the homeless, indigent, or elderly, and those with religious objections to being photographed. The law’s inclusion of provisional ballot exceptions, the court ruled, are ample to mitigate those restrictions. “And even assuming that the burden may not be justified as to a few voters,” Stevens added, “that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek in this litigation” – namely, invalidation of the entire law.

    Key to the court’s decision was the fact that the petitioners had not disputed the state’s interest in protecting the integrity of the voting process. Rather, they claimed that the law was a partisan attempt to restrict voters, to the advantage of state Republicans.

    But “while the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable,” the court ruled, “the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear.” If the impetus for the law were partisan in nature – i.e., were unrelated to the electoral process – even the minimal burdens placed on voters would render the law indefensible. But the law was spurred by a legitimate concern – one that even its opponents could not dispute – and “the ‘precise interests’ advanced by the State are therefore sufficient to defeat petitioners’ facial challenge,” the court found.

    Claim: Voter ID laws are unnecessary due to the relatively low incidence of voter fraud

    The actual incidence of voter fraud in Indiana was only tangentially relevant to the validity of the law, the court ruled. While no evidence of fraud was included in the record by the respondents, “flagrant examples of such fraud in other parts of the country have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists,” including examples in Indiana itself.

    It was therefore unnecessary for Indiana to show that the law responded to documented cases of voter fraud that it would attempt to prevent or penalize. The very real possibility that fraud could occur – demonstrated by the fact that it had occurred elsewhere – was sufficient rationale for the law.

    A corollary to this line of objections from voter ID opponents is that the documented voter fraud cited by the laws’ proponents would not actually be prevented by a photo ID requirement – absentee ballot voting, for instance. But the court ruled that a 2003 instance of absentee ballot fraud in Indiana demonstrated that voter fraud of any kind “could affect the outcome of a close election,” and therefore supported the state’s case for the law.

    Also worthy of consideration, the court noted, is the state’s real interest in protecting the perception of fair elections and voter faith in the integrity of state elections. “Public confidence in the integrity of the electoral process has independent significance,” the court ruled, “because it encourages citizen participation in the democratic process.”

    That passage is key, since it establishes a rationale for voter ID laws that does not require that fraud be widespread. Efforts to avoid the perception of fraud or the belief that it could take place – both of which could discourage citizens from voting – are sufficient to merit the voter ID requirement.

    Posted in Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to Revisiting the Supreme Court's Rebuttal of Voter ID Detractors

    1. Ryan Farnes says:

      Great explanation of judicial precedent in this matter.

      It is interesting how progressives seek to facilitate curtailment of law or rules, while conservatives simply want rules followed. The political back and forth in the country is often portrayed as a tug of war from opposite sides, when in reality it more closely resembles conservatives in the middle, standing near common sense, trying to rebalance the scale that progressives are trying to disproportionately weight toward their goals.

      Voter ID
      Balanced Budget
      Marriage
      Immigration

      And the list goes on…

    2. browns9 says:

      Do you have any info on evidentiary matters? ie quantitative data on voters who were wrongfully prohibited from voting in PA, IN or SC?

    3. killdozerd11 says:

      You have to have a photo ID for most everything you do

      So whats the big deal when it comes to voting

      It's required by the unions when they have elections but you don't see Holder and the NAACP going after them for requiring photo ID to vote ( And That ain't your union card ) or calling the unions Raciest

    4. Pat says:

      This is an insult to the millions of people who provided their photo ID to get a ballot or a polling ID card. Don't give us the excuse that it is too hard to get proper ID, if you can't bother to get proper ID or don't qualify, then you can't vote. End of story…

      My 95 year old mother has a non-driver photo ID from the DMV so she can vote. You have ten months, stop your whining and get busy…..

    5. Bobbie says:

      It's quite interesting democrats would mention the indigent as deprived of voting when one can see the indigent doesn't have set priorities let alone voting as one of them and how is there any such thing as the indigent when the tax paid servant Nancy Pelosi, is a millionaire? Does democrat Pelosi go out of her way to visit the indigent to give them her best regards, maybe even a crust of bread? how dare these demeaning democrats desperate to corrupt!

      If anyone of any walk of human life who is American wants to vote, they'll do what's required or get over the fact if it is, that they can't and be motivated to reach that goal if they freely choose! No person is worth the vote if this simple requirement is too much to ask or too great to follow!

      As far as foreign religious beliefs written according to foreign man made rules that conflict with the one requirement of all Americans to vote in the election process, their foreign man made written law enforced in their oppressive countries of origin is obviously more important than the one requirement for all Americans to vote. Why are they here promoting their foreign special interests that conflict with civil law?! Exceptions to foreign rule is absolutely prohibited in America and draws heavy suspicions. This is America where we the people represented by government elect doesn't discriminate to make exception to foreign beliefs at the cost of this country, her people, leadership and election process. either you meet eligibility or you don't vote. simple! even for a newcomer.

      the world is filled with too much hatred for this country that live here now not to enforce this one requirement without exception. If the good of people want to vote they do what is required without expecting attention for accommodation and special privilege. Integrity is of great importance today and so are all processes and procedures out of our control that promote it.

      Voter ID promotes neither democrat nor republican. Nor does it promote by influence or otherwise, oppression, suppression or depression! Voter ID promotes integrity in the voting process eliminating previous fraud where no fraud should be acceptable with all fraud highly penalized. This is America! what does that say about ANYBODY that argues this?

    6. Save America Now says:

      The liberals and progressives will say anything (Lie) to make any Voter ID law appear to be Unconstitutional because they know when people hear the lie enough they will start believing it as factual. Their chances of winning will be deminished if they do not get away with their voter fraud. And when the Republicans want the Voter ID laws, the liberals and progressives will make sure that the lamestream media portrays the Republicans as the bad guys. If the people hear it enough, they will start believing it

    7. Jeanne Stotler says:

      It can be required to show photo ID when you use food stamps and is required to 1. Cash a check, 2. board an airplane, 3. drive a car, and in some instances to board a train. I always show my Drivers lic. when I vote, no big deal. By the way when you go to the ER or doctors they ask for photo ID along with your Ins. info.

    8. Lloyd Scallan says:

      How many voter fraud cases must be uncovered before we understand that the Dems and the left are diametrically opposed to our voting laws and way of life. They must employ voter fraud to keep their ilk in power to continue their onslaught. Can we not recognize Obama, and his lackeys, has teams thinking up lies they hope will fool the people into thinking they have our best interest at heart. They don't! They have an agenda to end our American way of life. Voter fraud is a key piece of that agenda.

    9. thomas says:

      Common sense says "YOU MUST SHOW ID TO VOTE !
      ILLEGALS CANNOT VOTE ! What is it you don't understand ??

    10. Leon Lundquist says:

      I think the Progressive's effort to strike down photo ID for Voters is a smoking gun of Criminal Intent! The Administration perfectly Intends to perp Voter Fraud! They created new ways to do it! That's how President Obama got elected! He was Selected, never Vetted, probably Rewarded for his participation in bringing down the American Economy! RICO was made for the Criminally Insane, like our first Sorcerer President! He doesn't even know what America means!

    11. Mike, Wichita Falls says:

      The New Black Panther Party in Philly placed more of an undue burden to voting in 2008 than any of these voter ID laws could ever dream of doing. Talk about a violation of the Voting Rights Act! If that happens again in 2012, and I'm sure they and others will be emboldened to do so, will we see some prosecution this time, DOJ?

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