This election season has been full of stories about bowling scores, bar-room boilermakers and pick-up basketball. But last week, a little-noticed U.S. Supreme Court ruling may have jeopardized Americans' precious right to vote. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the most restrictive voter identification law in the country and failed, I think, in its duty to protect the voting rights of all Americans. In its 6-3 decision, the Court sanctioned the practice of requiring Indiana voters to present government-issued photo identification in order to vote.
Poll taxes, which were used to disenfranchise Southern Black voters by requiring them to pay a tax in order to vote, were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. This current ID requirement appears to be nothing more than a thinly disguised modern-day poll tax that places a burden upon many citizens – especially minorities, low-income, the elderly and people with disabilities — seeking to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
As Melanie Campbell writes in the National Urban League's State of Black America 2008, "Today there are still over 54 million eligible unregistered voters, including over 30 percent of African Americans and over 40 percent of Latino Americans who are unregistered. Yet there are those who consistently advocate for policies that discourage eligible citizens from becoming active participants in our representative democracy…" Indiana is one of a growing number of states that have passed or are considering similar restrictive voter ID measures. It's one thing to have the right to vote and quite another to have unfettered freedom to exercise that right.
Despite my disappointment with the Court's ruling, I am encouraged that the Justices have left open the possibility that such laws could be challenged in the future with proof that the laws prevented eligible voters from exercising their right to vote.
As the historic presidential election of 2008 draws near, we should be making it easier – not more difficult -for eligible voters to participate.
Marc Morial is the president of the National Urban League.