Crawford v. Marion County Election Board – The Supreme Court Gets It Right

US Supreme Court

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision upholding Indiana’s law which requires voters to produce a photo ID before they are allowed to vote.

Twenty-five states have required at some point voters to produce some form of ID before they are allowed to vote with varying rulings being handed down by lower courts on the constitutionality of these laws.  Monday’s decision could have an immediate impact on a number of states including Indiana, Florida and Georgia.

It should be noted that Indiana made every effort possible to minimize the burden the 2006 photo ID law had on its citizens who are not in possession of a valid photo ID.  First, Indiana provides IDs free of charge to individuals who do not posses a driver’s license.  Additionally, lawmakers included a provision in their law that allows voters without a valid photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and produce a valid form of identification at a later date.  Finally, residents of nursing homes are not required to produce a photo ID if their polling location is located in their nursing home facility.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Stevens who was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy.  Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion and was joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Alito.  Dissenting opinions were written by Justice Souter who was joined by Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer. 

There were several questions that had to be answered before the Court could arrive at their decision:

1. Does requiring voters to produce a photo ID before they are allowed to vote impose an excessively burdensome requirement on any class of voters?

Justice Stevens writes – “The record says virtually nothing about the difficulties faced by either indigent voters or voters with religious objections to being photographed.  …In sum, on the basis of the record that has been made in this litigation, we cannot conclude that the statute imposes ‘excessively burdensome requirements’ on any class of voters.”

Justice Scalia concurring with Stevens writes – “The lead opinion assumes petitioners’ premise that the voter-identification law ‘may have imposed a special burden on’ some voters, but holds that petitioners have not assembled evidence to show that the special burden is severe enough to warrant strict scrutiny.  That is true enough, but for the sake of clarity and finality as well as adherence to precedent, I prefer to decide these cases on the grounds that petitioners’ premise is irrelevant and that the burden at issue is minimal and justified.”

2. Is the burden placed on the voter outweighed by the possibility of preventing voter fraud?

Justice Stevens writes – “Indiana’s own experience with fraudulent voting in the 2003 Democratic primary for East Chicago mayor – though perpetrated using absentee ballots and not in-person fraud – demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.”

3. On a side note Stevens addressed the political implications presented in the photo ID cases:

“In their briefs, petitioners stress the fact that all of the Republicans in the General Assembly voted in favor” of the law “and the Democrats were unanimous in opposing it.  … It is fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role in the decision to enact” the law and “if such considerations had provided the only justification for a photo identification requirement, we may assume” that the law “would suffer the same fate as the poll tax.  But if a nondiscriminatory law is supported by valid neutral justifications, those justifications should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.”

It is now time for the states to move forward with photo ID requirements that will stand up to the Courts decision.  There are few rights our Founding Fathers gave us that are more important than the right to vote.  Photo ID requirements at worst place a de minimis burden on the voter while insuring the integrity of the votes being cast.  Requiring eligible voters to display a photo ID is a small price to pay to ensure the minimization of voter fraud.  The Supreme Court could not have been more correct in holding that Indiana’s law requiring a photo ID is a constitutional and justifiable way to protect “the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.”  


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