Last week I participated in a discussion about the Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board with Ron Christie, a former special assistant to George W. Bush. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld, 6-3, Indiana’s voter I.D. law. The venue was NPR’s News & Notes, a public affairs program hosted by Baltimore native Farai Chideya. During our exchange, I was stunned to hear Mr. Christie vehemently insist that voting is a “privilege.” Wow. A former special assistant to the President of the United States thinks that voting is a privilege! Voting is a right, one that the Supreme Court 100 years ago described as “preservative of all rights.”
The Indiana I.D. law requires that voters appearing on election day present a government-issued photo I.D., such as a driver’s license or state-issued non-driver’s identification card. If you are middle-class, live in or near a city, own a car or have access to public transportation and you are physically able, then the Indiana requirement is unlikely to impose a real burden on your right to vote. But as I explained to Mr. Christie, laws that burden our fundamental rights should not be viewed from the perspective of those best able to meet the requirement. Instead we should examine the law from the perspective of those who live at the margins — the elderly, the disabled, those who live in rural counties that have no public transportation (21 counties in Indiana alone have no public transportation).
One of the reasons I’ve been on the board of OSI-Baltimore for 5 years is that we focus on the lives of those who live at the margins – whether they are drug-addicted, ex-offenders or at-risk youth. We recognize that the fairness of our laws, the openness of our society must be judged through the lens of those least able to access the benefits our society has to offer, and least able to meaningfully exercise their rights. Whether it is removing barriers to ex-offenders who wish to vote or ensuring that those who suffer from the disease of drug-addiction have access to effective treatment programs, we’ve been unafraid to advocate on behalf of the unpopular.
To listen the NPR News & Notes program described above go to http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90102916 .