Wednesday, April 30, 2008

SCOTUS decides Voter ID Case

This week, the United States Supreme Court decided whether a state can require a voter to present a photo ID before casting a ballot (Crawford v. Marion County). The law was challenged by the Democratic Party alleging that it substantially burden the right to vote. The purpose, of course, of the law was to prevent election fraud. The Supreme Court in a splinter decision held that the evidence and the record was insufficient to support a facial attack on the validity of the statute. Thus, the Court affirmed the statute.

The Supreme Court stressed that the prevention of election fraud is a substantial state interest. It also stressed that the State of Indiana provides free photo identification cards to all citizens. The Court found that any inconvenience of making a trip to the motor vehicle department to obtain a photo ID "does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote, or even present a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting."

The Court also noted in its opinion that the Democrats bore a heavy burden because they advanced a broad attack on the constitutionality of the statute, seeking relief that would invalidate the statute on all its applications. The Democrats had argued that the statute would impose a substantial burden on voters who were unable to obtain a birth certificate in order to secure the photo ID. Those without birth certificates could cast a provisional ballot, but would be required to go to the circuit court clerk’s office after voting to file an affidavit. The Supreme Court noted that on the basis of the evidence and the record, it was not possible to quantify either the magnitude of this burden on the narrow class of voters or the portion of the burden imposed on them that is fully justified. The record provided no evidence of a number of voters without photo identification. The record said virtually nothing about the difficulty faced by either indigent voters or voters with religious objections to being photographed.

In summary, the Court held that the record prevented it from concluding that the statute imposed excessively burdensome requirements on any class of voters. Thus, the facial challenged failed.

Justice Scalia, Thomas, and Alito concurred in the judgment of the Court. These three justices would have gone further than to hold that the record was insufficient to show a special burden. They would have held that the burden at issue was minimal and justified. These three justices conclude with the following paragraph:

"The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are 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. And the State's interests are sufficient to sustain that minimal burden. That should end the matter. That the State accommodate some voters by permitting (not requiring) the casting of absentee or provisional ballots, is an indulgence - not a constitutional imperative that falls short of what is required."

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