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Disenfranchising American Voters

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SOURCE: AP/Ric Feld

A sample of a proposed secure voter ID.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today in Crawford v. Marion County to uphold an Indiana state law that requires voters to show a current government-sponsored photo ID. Proponents say that voter ID laws such as Indiana’s deter fraud that occurs in person at the polls, but in reality, this type of voter fraud is almost non-existent, and the requirements could block millions of eligible Americans from voting.

Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters, or over 21 million Americans, do not have a government-issued photo ID. And the majority of these eligible voters are Americans with a hard time either proving citizenship or obtaining an ID: senior citizens, the poor, racial minorities, and the disabled.

Indiana’s law is the strictest in the nation, but six other states also require photo ID to vote, and 18 more require a non-photo ID. The hurdle to voting presented by government-issued ID requirements has been likened to a 21st-century poll tax because they disproportionately harm citizens who have faced historical barriers to voting. Obtaining an ID can be a long and costly process, starting with the difficulty of finding proof of citizenship and then paying to confirm that citizenship.

Indiana claims that the law is necessary to prevent impersonation fraud at the polls. Yet officials have failed to proffer any evidence that this kind of fraud exists, and every systematic study of the question has concluded that it does not. Claims that these laws are necessary to combat fraud in the absence of any empirical or documented evidence that such fraud exists are not sufficient to justify the burden imposed on the constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote.

Policy makers need to focus on expanding the right to vote, not putting up bureaucratic roadblocks to people in marginalized communities who most need access to their government. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court chose not to rise above the partisan fray over voter ID laws and uphold equal access to the ballot box for all.

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