Thursday, January 10, 2008

Voter ID Law Is Bad for Democracy (Update 2)

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Indiana's voter ID law yesterday. For an excellent recap of the issues and oral arguments, please read and listen to this report from NPR's Nina Totenberg (the best legal reporter on radio or TV). Her prior report (from January 7, 2008) outlines the issues and facts. (Click on the Listen Now buttons to hear the reports.)

From Ms. Totenberg's report and from what I've read elsewhere, it does not sound as if many of the Supreme Court Justices were sympathetic to those challenging the law. The most depressing comment that I've read, however, came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked if the plaintiffs wanted the Supreme Court to "invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters" (quoting The Indianapolis Star, "Justices seem hesitant to toss Indiana's voter ID law", January 10, 2008). Justice Kennedy's query reflects the significant error that many proponents of the law make (whether intentionally or not) when they compare voting to other common tasks for which a photo ID is often required.

Voting is different; it is not the same as flying on a plane, renting a video, or even opening a bank account. Voting is an essential function -- perhaps, the essential function -- of a citizen in a democracy. Minor inconvenience might be acceptable in certain situations, but not situations that go to the very heart of the functioning of the democracy and certainly not when that inconvenience is caused, not for the purpose of preventing an abuse that is not occurring, but rather to disenfranchise certain voters who are more likely to vote for candidates of a particular ideology. Thus, I would answer Justice Kennedy's query with a strong affirmative!

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