This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Sun on January 3, 2008
On January 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments for one of the biggest election law cases in years. This case might decide who becomes president of America, and shape the future of the country.
The Court will hear arguments in the consolidated cases of Crawford v. Marion County and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita. At issue in the case is Indiana’s new voter ID law.
This law requires people showing up on Election Day to show government-issued picture identification. It only applies to people voting in person. It does not apply to absentee ballots, so the elderly or disabled who cannot vote in person are unaffected. More than 99% of Indiana’s voting age population has acceptable ID. If a person does not have a driver’s license, passport, or other government ID, Indiana will allow them to get a state picture ID at their local DMV, free of charge.
Finally, if there is some unforeseen problem with casting a ballot on Election Day, a person can still cast a provisional ballot, and then has up to 10 days to have that ballot authenticated and counted in the tally.
This law is designed to stop instances of people using dead persons name to vote, of living people voting twice, or fictitious persons using names like Daffy Duck or James Bond to vote. Yet some oppose this law, so its existence will now be decided by the Supreme Court.
There are two different ways to look at this case. The first is it burdens poor people and racial minorities more than others because they are statistically less likely to have licenses or passports. The other way of looking at this case is that it’s about protecting our democratic system from being usurped by those perpetrating fraud to steal elections.
These views come from two different ways of looking at voting rights. One outlook is that the system should do everything possible to help facilitate voting. This would mean making voting registration and casting votes as easy and fast as we can. The other is that voting is an important civic duty, with the emphasis on personal responsibility to properly register, go to the appointed locations, and fulfill whatever reasonable requirements are necessary to keep fraudulent votes from undermining the process.
In other words, the first approach focuses on getting people to vote, while the second focuses on making sure that only eligible voters have their votes counted. Though this Indiana ID law is really about civil rights. Every eligible adult citizen has a constitutional right to vote. Each citizen also has the right to not have their legitimate vote diluted by fraud.
As this case shows, voter fraud is always a danger to democracy. Briefs in the case show that the number of votes cast in Wisconsin in 2004 exceeded the number of registered voters by over 4,600. Since you can’t have more votes than you have voters, there was clearly fraud going on there. That amounted to about 2% of the total state vote. In a close election that percentage difference could determine who takes the governorship, a Senate seat, or even the White House.
Election law cases like this balance the burden a law puts on the right to vote with the state’s important interest in ensuring that free and fair elections result in the people’s chosen candidate being elected. Every voter registration law is a burden; there’s no way around that. Every requirement you put on the voting system makes it harder to vote, but each effective requirement also makes our voting system more secure and makes it more likely that the candidate chosen by the people will be the one to lead them in office.
America is rare in its ability to maintain integrity in the voting booth. In many nations around the world ballot boxes are stuffed, voters are beaten, opposition candidates are thrown in jail, and thieves and criminals steal elections to seize power. While our system has its flaws, it is nonetheless among the most secure and honest in the world.
But the stakes could not be higher. America has the largest economy and the most powerful military in the world. Over 300 million people live under America’s direct governance, and all 6 billion people on the planet are impacted by who sits in our Congress and the Oval Office. The question before the justices of the Supreme Court is whether, given these stakes, this Indiana law appropriately protects the integrity of the ballot box while not harming the right of Indiana’s people to vote. This case will be closely watched by election officials all over America, and will shape how we safeguard our precious right to vote in America.
Mr. Blackwell, the former secretary of state of Ohio, is a fellow at the American Civil Rights Union, the Family Research Council, and the Buckeye Institute. He is also a contributing editor of Townhall.com.