supreme court rules on Indiana Voter ID case

I’ve mostly stayed quiet on this issue but it is newsworthy.

The Supreme Court just ruled on the Indiana Voter Id case
(Crawford v. Marion County Election Board) in support of
allowing states to issue stricter voter id laws.

Rick Hansen gives his initial thoughts at the Election Law Blog:

Today’s much anticipated decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board is a significant win for those who support stricter voter identification laws, even if they support such laws for partisan purposes. It will encourage further litigation, because it relegates challenges to laws imposing onerous burdens on a small group of voters to “as applied” challenges, but those challenges will be difficult to win. The lack of a majority opinion, moreover, injects some uncertainty into the appropriate standard for reviewing other challenges to onerous election laws.

I am disappointed by how cursory that opinion was in its review of the state’s interest in light of the highly partisan atmosphere of election administration, and I fear that, despite the Stevens-Kennedy-Roberts’ opinion’s best intentions, this opinion will be read as a green light for the enactment of more partisan election laws in an attempt to skew outcomes in close elections.

I’m personally a bit conflicted on voter ID requirement laws. Opponents (1 2) of these sorts of laws argue that they are effectively poll taxes, that there is very little evidence of significant fraud by voters that they would help prevent (as contrasted with election fraud by election system insiders) and that the motivation for these laws is a partisan push to discourage voters from classes of people that lean to the Democratic party.

Despite these arguments, it seems very reasonable to me for our election system to have means to prevent or detect fraud attempts by voters. Intuitively a voter id requirement does not sound very burdensome. The question for me becomes not “Can / Should Voter ID requirements be enacted?” but rather “How can Voter ID requirements be implemented in a fair, non-partisan way that will not effectively result in partisan voter suppression?” I don’t have answers except for suggesting that laws like this not phase in for ~10 years so that the negative impacts can be minimized and partisan effects be less predictable.

Dan Wallach at Freedom To Tinker has a couple of very thoughtful posts on the topic:

  • How can we require ID for voters?

    he real issue is making sure that all people who might want to vote actually have IDs, which is a real problem for the apparently non-trivial number of current voters who lack normal ID cards (and, who we are led to believe, tend to vote in favor of Democrats).

    The question then becomes how to get IDs for everybody.

    The only way I could imagine a voter ID requirement being workable (i.e., having a neutral effect on partisan elections) is if there was a serious amount of money budgeted to help people without IDs to get them. That boils down to an army of social workers digging around for historical birth records and whatever else, and that’s not going to be cheap. However, I’m perfectly willing to accept a mandatory voter ID, as long as enough money is there to get one, for free, for anybody who wants one. The government is willing to give you a $40 coupon to receive digital signals for an analog TV, as part of next year’s phase-out of analog broadcasts. Why not help out with getting identification papers as part of phasing in an ID requirement?

  • voting ID requirements and the Supreme Court

    In the end, the court found that the requirement wasn’t particularly onerous (the New York Times’s article is as good as any for a basic summary, or go straight to the ruling).

    The big technical question, of course, is whether the root desires behind the voter ID requirement can be addressed in some more effective fashion than ID requirement. What are those root desires?


7 responses to “supreme court rules on Indiana Voter ID case

  1. Consider two facts:

    (1) We know how to implement voter ID in a politically neutral way, as you so clearly describe. I do think you overstate the cost somewhat, although there is some cost involved.

    (2) The legislatures of Indiana and other states have carefully and deliberately avoided doing (1).

    Combine these two facts. The inescapable conclusion is that political motivation of these laws stinks. Whether this necessarily means that Stevens and Scalia are wrong and Souter is right — there is a burden on voters; it is not trivial (especially in light of the fact that it is borne by an identifiable subset of voters); and no legitimate government interest justifies it precisely because a better method is available — might be a separate question. I think it’s not a separate question.

    As you point out, we can afford to pay people $40 apiece to upgrade their televisions. Even if the thing were constitutional, it would still smell.

  2. >[BR]We know how to implement voter ID in a politically neutral way,
    >as you so clearly describe.
    I’m not entirely sure. I think that some of the ideas
    discussed in my post and in Dan’s posts could
    mitigate the impact but I am not convinced that
    they would fully mitigate partisan impact of such
    laws. I’m still conflicted about where the right
    ‘balance point’ is between the various societal

    >[BR]no legitimate government interest justifies it
    >precisely because a better method is available
    Can you be specific?

  3. In my first response, I didn’t distinguish between Greg’s thoughts and his extended quotes from Dan Wallach. This was sloppy (at best).

    On a better method of voter ID being available, there’s no way, even in principle, to make the balance you strike be perfect. My point was that the Indiana and other recent laws don’t even try to strike that balance and are therefore not tailored to the interest they allegedly serve.

    At a minimum, a fair voter ID law would have to make the provision of ID (or endorsement of existing photo ID for the purpose of voting) integral to the voter registration process, not something the voter has to do separately. People who don’t have their birth certificates should receive government assistance obtaining a copy — again, as a integral part of getting registered (yes, this would cost money).

    Finally, to be nondiscriminatory, equal effort would have to be put into deterring fraud by, and coercion of, vote-by-mail voters. This is a discrimination issue because the poor people who are adversely affected by voter ID don’t generally vote by mail. Therefore targeting in-person voting, where impersonation fraud is extremely rare, while not targeting voting by mail, where fraud and coercion are more frequen (if still not very frequent) is inherently discriminatory. The reason these laws don’t target abuse of vote by mail is that poor people and minorities tend not to vote that way.

    Also, I think this should be a federal responsibility, not a state responsibility.

  4. Since posting here, I read this contribution by Jack Santucci at The Democratic Piece. I think it’s excellent, and may shed further light on what non-partisan voter ID would look like.

  5. Pingback: Doonesbury on the partisan nature of voter ID « All About Voting

  6. I myself have struggled with my position on this issue. I too feel that there should be some effort to establish a right to vote, but at the same time I had no idea that widespread voter fraud of this manner is such a desperate problem. There are many more flaws in our voting system that need to be addressed that have nothing to do with IDs.

  7. ID requirements vary by state; some states (e.g., North Carolina) do not require an individual to produce any ID to vote.

    Decision Support’s electronic pollbook product ( is being used in Mecklenburg county, NC to reduce fraud, expedite canvas, and dramatically reduce voter wait times at the precincts.

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