Protecting the integrity of the ballot box is essential to our democracy. Laws requiring voters to show identification at the polls are commonsense measures to prevent fraud and corruption, and ensure that each year’s election returns accurately reflect the will of the people.
Yet President Barack Obama’s administration and political allies are pursuing a dual-track approach to vilify such tools, in a crass political ploy to aid the president’s reelection.
In 2008, the Supreme Court held in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that Indiana’s voter-ID law is constitutional. The Court noted that the challengers could not produce a single voter disenfranchised by that law. Now thirty-two states have voter-ID laws to protect their electoral process.
Nonetheless, when southern states have passed these laws, Attorney General Eric Holder has invoked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block these measures as having the effect of disparately impacting racial minorities. Mr. Holder has blocked laws in Texas and South Carolina, and litigation is now underway.
Section 5 specifies that certain southern states that suppressed minority voting half a century ago must obtain preclearance from the Justice Department or the federal district court in Washington, D.C., before changing their voting laws. Even the liberal Warren Court upheld Section 5 in the 1966 case South Carolina v. Katzenbach only because endemic racial hostility at that time justified extraordinary federal power under the Fifteenth Amendment, and indicated that if American society progressed, such continued federal supervision over this quintessential state function would no longer be constitutional.
Today an African-American can be elected president of the United States, or serve in top Cabinet posts, congressional leadership, or the Supreme Court. So in 2009 the Supreme Court signaled that it was ready to reconsider Section 5’s validity. A case currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Shelby County v. Holder, may provide that opportunity next year.
But while General Holder is abusing Section 5 to block laws that do not go as far as Indiana’s law upheld in Crawford, President Obama’s longtime political allies at the NAACP have gone to the United Nations Human Rights Council to protest voter-ID laws—a council comprised of the likes of Cuba, Russia, and China, with no jurisdiction over American elections. This thus becomes a dual-track approach to gin up a political issue to help President Obama in his reelection efforts, invoking an outdated law and an international body whose members include notorious violators of voting rights.
Voting is unique as a constitutional right. First, the right to cast a ballot includes a corollary right not to have your legal vote canceled by someone else’s fraud. You have the right to have your undiluted vote counted.
Second, this fundamental right is also a citizen’s duty. Part of that duty requires you to register, and to appear at a certain place on a certain day to vote. Complying with those requirements is doing your civic duty to ensure a free and fair election.
And there’s another point that no one contests. Getting married is a fundamental right. Yet you have to show a picture ID to get a marriage license. You can’t just show up, give a name, and have a court issue a marriage certificate in that name.
You must prove you are who you claim to be before exercising your right to marry, an exercise that carries lasting legal and social consequences. Similarly, there is no reason not to establish your identity before you cast a vote, exercising a right that—like marriage—carries lasting legal and social consequences.
Voter-ID laws both protect this corollary right not to have your vote diluted, while also augmenting a reasonable aspect of your civic duty to make sure the electoral machinery functions properly on Election Day. The fact that states make special accommodations for people in nursing homes or with special circumstances, and can even provide identification free of charge to those who cannot afford it, strikes the proper balance to ensure that every qualified voter can reasonably cast a ballot that will not be tainted by anyone’s fraud or misdeeds.
America’s focus on having free and fair elections is one of the reasons the United States is the oldest democratic republic on earth. Failing to ensure the integrity of the democratic process in elections is a mistake a free people often makes only once.
Editor's Note: Ken Klukowski co-authored this column.
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