Summary of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board
Facts: Indiana passed a voter identification law. The Indiana Democratic Party, the Marion Democratic Central Committee and League of Women Voters challenged the legislation. The particular legislation required voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot in an election. As implemented, when voters failed to present identification, they could cast a provisional ballot and have until the second Monday after an election day to provide sufficient proof of identity as well as sign an affidavit attesting to the fact that it was in fact they and not someone else who had cast the provisional ballot.
The plaintiffs in the matter argued that the legislation was particularly burdensome for voters, many of whom were indigent, people of color, and Democrats (presumably in low income areas). The plaintiffs argued that four problems stemmed from the legislation including the following:
“(1) the cost of the identification, travel and birth certificate required to obtain identification constitute a poll tax; (2) the need to go to the county election board to sign an affidavit constitutes an added unnecessary burden; (3) the regulations do not apply to all voters, namely absentee voters, giving rise to disparate treatment; and, (4) many of the Indiana Bureaus of Motor Vehicles, the only location to obtain valid identification, are difficult to get to, especially in rural counties."
The plaintiffs petitioned for the law to be enjoined on the grounds that the legislation violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States which ensures equal protection for all under the law. The defendants in the matter included the Secretary of State and the co-directors of the Indiana Election Division of the Secretary of State’s Office. They asserted that they were not responsible for enforcement of these regulations and cannot remedy the problem should judgment be granted against them, “making them improper parties to this action." The defendants claimed immunity in the action.
Issue: The legal question presented was whether the legislation violated the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Holding: The Court held that the law does not violate the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Majority Opinion: Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer each wrote dissenting opinions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Souter’s dissent. The Court reasoned that the photo identification requirement was directly related to a legitimate state interest to have credible elections, i.e. preventing voter fraud. The Court ruled that while a burden was being imposed on voters, that burden was minimal and thus did not outweigh the greater good attempted by the State. As such, the law was categorized as “neutral and nondiscriminatory."
Dissenting Opinion: Justices Souter and Breyer each wrote dissenting opinions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Justice Souter’s dissent. The dissenting justices argued that while the burden on voters may have been minimal, the pertinent question should not have been one of voter burden, but one that assesses whether the State had actually proven that there was a real and legitimate voter fraud problem to warrant the legislation in the first place. The dissenting justices argued that the State had not proven sufficient fraud to warrant such as a law.
Conclusion: This case was particularly important and continues to be important with respect to other voter identification laws and initiatives which have taken center in the most recent political and cultural wars revolving around racial and socio-economic based disenfranchisement.