By John W. Lee

The US Supreme Court weighs in on State required Voter Identification

When I was a teenager, like all my friends and everyone I knew, I went to the DMV and got a Driver’s License, which also was also useful as a State Issued Identification.  Since I was a teenager, almost everyday of my life I have had that Picture ID in my pocket.  I have produced it when I was writing a check, withdrawing funds from a bank, using a credit card, entering a court house, entering an airport, doing business at the DMV or courthouse, obtaining a fishing license, obtaining a boaters license, purchasing alcohol, purchasing cigarettes and any number of other everyday transactions.  Therefore, when I am asked to produce some form of ID at a polling place I am neither offended or surprised.

If you follow politics you will know that a State requiring a citizen to produce valid identification prior to voting is a hot topic.  While this is not a political blog, the issue of requiring voters to produce ID has reached the U.S. Supreme Court on more than one occasion.  Basically the folks that want to require ID at the polls say it will cut down on voter fraud, while the folks that oppose voter ID say it will cause poor people that can’t afford a drivers license to stay away from the polls.   Opponents of Voter ID say making a person have a free State issued voter ID is the same as a poll tax or literacy test.

On October 18, 2014 the US Supreme Court refused to vacate the stay entered by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the case of Veasey v. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas.  By refusing to vacate the stay, the Supreme Court allows the State of Texas to require voters to produce valid Identification prior to voting, at least in this upcoming election.  The court did not rule on the merits of the Texas Voter ID law.  This is not the first time the US Supreme Court has upheld voter identification laws.  In 2008, In a 6-3 decision the Court allowed the State of Indiana to require it’s voters to produce valid state or federal ID prior to voting (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board).  In Crawford the Court essentially found that a State could impose reasonable restrictions on voting if the were evenly applied, non-discriminatory, non-sever and not overly burdensome to the voter.  The Court found, in part, that because a citizen could obtain a free Voter ID it was not overly burdensome.

Over 30 States currently have some form of voter ID requirement.  Some States require a picture ID like a driver license or military ID while other will accept a utility bill.  Currently there are several States that have pending legislation to enact some form of Voter ID or strengthen the Voter ID requirements they currently have. With State legislatures around the country enacting new voter ID laws, State Supreme Courts and lower federal courts are ruling for and against Voter ID laws.  These contradictory court decisions are fueling the debate and causing confusion amongst the electorate.  It is clear from the Crawford decision that Voter ID laws are permitted if they are non-discriminatory and non-burdensome, but I think the Court will have to add some clarity to what those standards mean before this issue is fully settled. Given that there are over thirty States that have Voter ID laws and the Supreme Court has ruled that Voter ID laws are acceptable, why did this Texas case make it to the Supreme Court?  Based on the dissenting opinion, those Justices that oppose Voter ID laws believe, in part, that the Texas Voter ID law is discriminatory because it does not allow two forms of ID that other States allow.  Unlike other States with Voter ID laws, Texas does not allow a valid instate college ID or an ID issued by a Native American tribe to be an acceptable form of Voter ID.

Virginia has new voter ID laws.  In Virginia, you must present a photo ID to vote.  Virginia allows many different forms of photo ID; including, drivers license, US passport, Virginia Veterans ID, Virginia College ID, Employee ID card, and Military ID.  If you don’t have your ID, you can still vote, but will have to show your ID shortly after the election.  If you can’t afford an ID, you can have a free ID issued by the State.  Compared to some other States, Virginia has made it easy to show ID at the polls with many different forms of ID that are acceptable and free Voter IDs to those that can’t afford one.

So far neither side of this national debate has been able to produce any evidence to support their claims.  The States have been unable to prove that there is any substantial in-person voter fraud; and the opponents of the Voter ID have been unable to produce people that are actually unable to obtain the free State issued Voter ID.  The opponents of Voter Id law argued that there were 600,000 people, many of them minorities, in Texas that were not capable of obtaining a free voter ID, but they could not produce even one of them as a witness in the case.  Most other Nations require some sort of identification at the polls to vote, even if it is not a National ID.  Some countries list up to 45 different forms of ID that are acceptable to use at the polls. Even countries like India, with 1.2 billion citizens, require proof of identity at the polls.   I believe America will catch up to the rest of the world and the issue will be settled in favor of a reasonable Voter ID law that permits multiple forms of ID to be used at the polls; allows for a free State issued Voter ID; and allows for a voter that forgets his ID to vote on a provisional ballot.  On November 4, I will go to the polls and happily show the election officials my Virginia Drivers License.

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