Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments about an Indiana law that requires voters to produce photo identification before they can cast a ballot. The law’s intention—voter fraud prevention—sounds like a good idea on the surface. But the devil is in the details.
Indiana’s law, the strictest in the nation, requires voters to present a current government-issued photo ID, usually a driver’s license or other state ID card issued by the DMV. Before the law was enacted in 2005, voters simply had to sign the register at the polls and poll-workers compared the signature to the one already on file. The new law clearly discriminates against those who have a harder time either proving citizenship or obtaining an ID: the poor, the elderly, and racial minorities.
Proponents say that voter ID laws such as Indiana’s deter fraud that occurs in person at the polls. In reality, this type of voter fraud is nearly nonexistent. Instead, voter ID laws such as Indiana’s prevent Americans from voting who have a hard time either proving citizenship or obtaining an ID: the poor, the elderly, and racial minorities.
The hurdle to voting presented by government-issued photo ID requirements is essentially a 21st-century poll tax. 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. Groups who are adversely affected by the legislation include elderly and urban-dwelling Americans who may not have current driver’s licenses and Native Americans and elderly African Americans who were born at home in the care of midwives in parts of the country that didn’t register births at the time.
Further, the Census Bureau and Federal Highway Administration estimate that 11 percent of voting-age Americans lack any form of current government-issued photo ID. That’s 21 million Americans who could find themselves disenfranchised if all states adopt Indiana’s standard.
No citizen should have to pay money to vote. Poll taxes were outlawed during the civil rights movement for exactly this reason. Disenfranchising people of color and the poor is as un-American today as it was 40 years ago.
The voter ID laws in Indiana and six other states obscure the real problems in the voting system. Electronic voting machines are vulnerable to large-scale fraud. Politically motivated election workers routinely question the validity of voter IDs, intimidating voters and preventing them from casting legitimate votes. Ballot-stuffing, improper vote counting, inadequate numbers of voting booths and long lines at the polls, and intentionally misleading election-day voting instructions are far greater worries.
Policy makers need to focus on expanding the right to vote, not putting up bureaucratic and financial roadblocks. The Supreme Court should rise above the partisan fray over voter ID laws and uphold equal access to the ballot box for all to promote the integrity of our national elections.