Protecting the integrity of the ballot box is essential to our democracy. Laws requiring voters to show identification at the polls are common-sense measures to prevent fraud and corruption, and ensure that each year’s election returns accurately reflect the will of the people.
Yet President 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 re-election.
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 32 states have voter ID laws to protect their electoral processes.
Nonetheless, when Southern states have passed these laws, Attorney General Eric Holder has invoked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block them, on the grounds that these laws disparately impact minorities. He 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. The court 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 on the Supreme Court, in top cabinet posts and in congressional leadership positions. 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 Mr. Holder is abusing Section 5 to block laws that do not go as far as Indiana’s law upheld in Crawford, Mr. 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 that has no jurisdiction over American elections. This thus becomes a dual-track approach to gin up a political issue to help Mr. Obama in his re-election efforts, invoking an outdated law before an international body whose members include notorious voting-rights violators.
Voting is unique as a constitutional right for two reasons. 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 then 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.
Voter ID laws both protect this corollary right and augment a reasonable aspect of your civic duty to make sure the electoral machinery functions properly on Election Day. By making special accommodations for people in nursing homes or with special circumstances, and perhaps even providing the poor with free identification, states can 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 is a mistake a free people often makes only once.
Ken Blackwell was Ohio secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Ken Klukowski is a fellow with the American Civil Rights Union and on faculty at Liberty University School of Law.