Recently, the Supreme Court has been looking into a number of states’ newly proposed rulings regarding changes in next month’s ballot procedure. One of the rulings was the Republican-led Voter Identification Law in Texas, which explicitly mandates using one of seven forms of acceptable photo IDs at the voting booth. On Saturday, Oct. 18, the Supreme Court decided to uphold this bill, despite the fact that a federal judge previously predicted it will disenfranchise approximately 600,000 potential voters.
The seven acceptable photo IDs are as follows: a Texas driver’s license, a Texas Election Identification Certificate, a Texas personal identification card, or a Texas concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety DPS, a United States military identification card, a United States citizenship certificate or a United States passport.
According to this list, student IDs will not enable voter registration, while a concealed handgun license will. This identification legislature is believed to be one of the toughest in the nation and will lead to disproportionate inequality in voting rights for Hispanics and African Americans.
The process through which the Supreme Court came to this decision is indiscernible. However, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voiced their opposition to the decision in their dissenting opinion:
“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.” As this dissent emphasizes, the fact that a large portion of the population will be kept from casting ballots – and that most of them are of racial minority groups – poses a serious threat to the democracy that American citizens have always held dear.
The first purported platform for this ID law is that it will enhance people’s confidence in the credibility of the election. This law, however, is believed to do the contrary by giving people feelings of insecurity, of being manipulated into promoting a certain party’s chances of winning and preventing voter fraud.
One of the fundamental human rights is the right to vote, and fairness in any election comes only if everyone has the option to vote. There is also a pervading belief in the opposition that this law will disenfranchise a portion of women when they change their last names after marriage. Ultimately, strict ID requirements will push people toward political inactivity if casting ballots is becoming even more burdensome.
The law’s second platform is to eliminate voter impersonation in election, which hardly exists and is unlikely to become a problem in the foreseeable future. Texas’ Attorney General, Greg Abbott, recently emphasized to ABC News the unlikelihood of this kind of behavior.
“Over the past decade Texas has convicted 51 people of voter fraud. Only four of those cases were for voter impersonation, the only type of voter fraud that voter ID laws prevent. Nationwide, that rate of voter impersonation is even lower.”
Moreover, the practice of impersonating another person in ballots is cumbersome and not particularly motivating when the attempting voter will possibly have to face a five year sentence, up $10,000 in fines for citizens and deportation for immigrants. ID laws are not designed to eliminate election frauds, including vote buying, coercion, fake registration forms or voting from the wrong address.
The Supreme Court decided not to intervene with the states’ plans for election procedure since the start of voting is quickly approaching. The fact that the election is getting close, however, should not prevent the Supreme Court from hampering a bill which potentially defies the democracy that represents American political culture.
Intervention is necessary whenever injustice is explicit. Many people believe this identification law will appear in front of the Court in the future – but even if the law is ruled out by then, as many as 600,000 people will already have lost their votes.
Jenny Huong Dao ’17 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Vung Tau, Vietnam. She majors in political science and economics.