Indiana's voter-ID law is harmful and worthless.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Jan. 8 2008 12:17 PM

Election Burden

Indiana's voter-ID law is harmful and worthless.

Voting booths
Voters cast their ballots

This Wednesday, in the midst of an intense political primary season, the Supreme Court will hear a case that will say a lot about the kind of democracy America aspires to be. At issue is an Indiana law requiring registered voters to present a government-issued photo ID when they seek to vote on Election Day. A law said to combat voting fraud by imposing the modest task of showing an ID may seem at first impression to be both sensible and fair. But this law is neither.

First and foremost, Indiana's law is a "solution" to a problem that doesn't exist. The voting fraud it purports to address is illusory. And the means it employs needlessly make it far more difficult for some citizens—especially those who are low-income, elderly, or lack easy access to transportation—to vote.

Advertisement

The basic legal standard for assessing a voting restriction of this sort is whether the need for the restriction is sufficiently weighty to justify the burden on legitimate voters. Photo-ID supporters argue that the requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud, and that it imposes a negligible burden because legitimate voters invariably possess a government-issued photo ID. Both claims are wrong: A photo-ID requirement, in fact, is essentially of no benefit in preventing voter fraud, and it disenfranchises scores of legitimate voters.

There is no dispute that Indiana's photo-ID requirement addresses one, and only one, species of fraud—so-called "in-person impersonation fraud," which would occur if an ineligible voter were to come to the polls and attempt to cast a ballot by falsely claiming the identity of an eligible voter. In the entire history of Indiana, the total number of reported instances of this kind of fraud is zero. Nor is there reliable evidence that in-person impersonation fraud has occurred anywhere else in the country.

That is not surprising, as this kind of fraud would be an exceedingly irrational way to attempt to affect the outcome of an election. For starters, the impersonator would need to know that the actual registered voter would not herself be showing up to vote. If the real voter had already voted, the impersonator would be exposed at once. And in any event, why would any sane person risk going to prison to influence an election by one vote? It is all the more implausible to imagine an army of impersonators coordinating their efforts on a scale that could affect an election, let alone doing so without being detected. That is why the election fraud that's actually been tried involves ballot-box stuffing or bulk submitting of absentee ballots—schemes that allow a few people to roll up a lot of fraudulent votes. A photo-ID requirement does nothing to prevent those real shenanigans.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.