Justice John Paul Stevens, who is not a partisan Republican by any means, wrote the lead opinion in this week's sensible U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a controversial voting-rights case.
The court majority ruled that states may require photo identification of voters at the polls even, though justices said they could find no evidence in the case before them that voters had tried to cast a ballot in another person's name. States have a legitimate interest in guarding against fraud, the majority said.
We agree. Preserving the integrity of the ballot is essential if people are to trust the democratic process.
Republicans, as a rule, favor tougher identification requirements for voters. Democrats say Republicans want to suppress voting by poor, elderly, disabled and minority citizens, who generally vote Democratic. They argue that the photo ID requirement disproportionately affects those voters and places an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.
Partisan politics aside, a photo ID is an effective anti-fraud device.
In its ruling, the court upheld a photo ID law passed by Indiana in 2005. Twenty-five states require some form of identification at the polls, but none are as restrictive as Indiana's, where only a driver's license or a federal passport will be accepted in most cases. Indiana's motor vehicles department will provide a free photo ID for non-drivers, but they must produce a "primary document" such as a passport to get one.
Florida's law, which accepts a broader range of photo IDs — such as student identification cards and employee badges — is preferable. But that law wasn't before the high court.
There's no evidence that substantial numbers of voters have been kept from the polls by a photo ID requirement. If such requirements prove burdensome, advocates can always take to the courts again.
In the meantime, the court's ruling that Indiana's photo ID law is constitutionally valid is reasonable.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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