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Eight years after Bush vs. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered another blow to the rights of American citizens by upholding the most restrictive voter law in decades. The court’s recent ruling effectively bars thousands of eligible voters from the franchise.
The decision in Crawford vs. Marion County Board upholds Indiana’s requirement that voters in the state of Indiana present a state-issued photo ID if they wish to cast a ballot. The court upheld a statute that it admits:
• Does not prevent the fraud it was intended to prevent.
• Is designed to prevent a type of fraud that does not exist.
• Does not prevent the fraud that is a documented problem in the state.
• Places an extra burden on the poor, minority, elderly and college voters in Indiana.
Indiana did not present any evidence that in-person voter fraud exists.
There is no evidence of this type of fraud in Indiana history. Furthermore, this requirement does nothing to address the documented fraud issue Indiana has with absentee ballots, nor does it address the serious concerns of vote buying, ballot-stuffing, ballot miscounting, voter intimidation and other documented types of fraud.
The Indiana law and others like it will disenfranchise mostly young, low-income and elderly voters who disproportionately do not have or need photo IDs, equating to thousands of lost votes. According to a June 2005 University of Wisconsin study, an estimated 23 percent of people aged 65 and over did not have a valid photo ID.
A state may not restrict the right to vote unless it can show the harm it is seeking to prevent outweighs the harm it imposes on voters. Mere speculation that a harm may occur does not meet this standard. Rather, it must demonstrate specific evidence showing that the burden it is imposing on voters is directly related to a particular interest and that interest must outweigh the burden on voters. The Indiana law upheld by the Court does not meet this standard.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a scathing concurrence, indicated that the votes of those people who do not own a photo ID were “irrelevant” because they were unwilling to pay for the photo IDs required to vote. This opinion fails to appreciate the economic hardships faced by those in poverty. Scalia advocated for limiting the franchise among some of society’s most vulnerable groups in the most severe and discriminatory fashion since the poll tax.
The Supreme Court is allowing Republican politicians in Indiana to erect barriers to voters believed to tend Democratic. This decision, on the eve of a primary that was expected to have record numbers of new voters, only highlights how important future nominees to the high court will be to the protection of American rights.
Members of Congress are outraged at the Supreme Court’s cavalier treatment of the fundamental right to vote. Through decisions such as Bush vs. Gore and Crawford vs. Marion County Board, the standard for limiting the franchise has been set dangerously low. Allowing states to infringe on fundamental rights of United States citizens cannot be tolerated.
Minnesota consistently leads the nation in voter turnout. This is no accident. We have one of the most transparent and accessible voter systems in the country, with same day registration and no photo ID requirement. We also have a reputation for the cleanest elections in the country. We should be rightfully proud — and the nation should follow our lead.
Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.