The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise to choose electors for the President of the United States. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the state may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person's vote over that of another. It must be remembered that the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen's vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.
The lower court had ordered a manual recount of votes cast in one county and had ordered that the votes for respondent presidential candidate identified in two other counties be included in the certified vote totals. The Court granted the writ of certiorari to determine whether the recount procedures adopted by the lower court were consistent with its obligation to avoid arbitrary and disparate treatment of the members of its electorate. In a per curiam opinion, the Court concluded that the lower court's decision violated the equal protection clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Court reversed the judgment of the lower court and remanded for further proceedings.
Were the recount procedures imposed by the trial court consistent with the constitutional mandate?
The lower court failed to identify and require standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots. Moreover, the decision to include a partial total from one county gave no assurance that the recounts included in the final certification were required to be complete. Thus, the recount procedures were inconsistent with the minimum procedures necessary to protect the fundamental right of each voter in the special instance of a statewide recount under the authority of a single state judicial officer.