Swarthmore Political Scientist Calls Voter ID Laws "Democratic Emergency"

Alisa Giardinelli

Swarthmore College Political Scientist

Calls Voter ID Laws "Democratic Emergency"

Joins Amicus Brief to Challenge Proposed Legislation

by Alisa Giardinelli
11/15/2007

Swarthmore College political science professor Richard Valelly '75 joined a group of leading scholars of race, class, and politics in America in signing an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court this week to appeal the approval of Indiana's voter ID legislation by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Because the Supreme Court has granted expedited review of the case, Crawford v. Marion County Board of Elections, a decision is expected before the 2008 presidential election.

Richard Valelly '75 

"In effect, voter ID is a poll tax because the costs of compliance vary systematically, in predictable ways, across groups in the electorate," says Valelly, an expert on minority voting rights and election law. "If you are poor, if you are elderly, if you are black, it will add to the cost of voting."

 Richard Valelly '75

For would-be voters who do not present sufficient photo ID, Indiana's new law requires that they vote using a provisional ballot and sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury stating they are eligible to vote in that precinct. Those who do must, within 10 days of the election, travel to the circuit court clerk or county election board, sign another affidavit swearing they are the person who cast the provisional ballot, and then either show a valid photo ID or swear they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed. A full description of the law's requirements can be found in the brief, available here.

According to Valelly, Indiana's claim that it wants to prevent fraud cannot be taken at face value. While voter fraud can occur, he says it does so through absentee ballot fraud schemes, not at the polls on Election Day. "Voter ID unfairly burdens those voters who cannot pay the financial costs of acquiring a valid ID, or who do not have the time to take away from work in order to follow up on the counting of their provisional ballots," he notes.

"We gave up requiring the payment of money to vote in the 1960s," Valelly adds. "Voter ID is a return to the application of burdens and costs on the act of voting and, given the history, it's inexcusable."

Valelly makes clear much of that history in The Two Reconstructions (2004), his award-winning examination of black enfranchisement in the U.S. from the Reconstruction era to the civil rights movement. In the book, which was honored by both the Southern Political Science Association and the American Political Science Association, he demonstrates how the African American struggle for the right to vote fundamentally shaped American democracy and the U.S. party system from 1865 to the present.

Valelly, a 1975 Swarthmore graduate, received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1984. He has been a research scholar at Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University.