Politically Uncorrected: Thinking About Voter ID

Rep. Turzai speaking at the Republican State Committee meeting last month, where he told the crowd that Voter ID was going to "allow" Mitt Romney to win in PA.

What should we think about Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law set to take effect for the 2012 presidential election? The law requires all voters to provide stringently prescribed photo ID every time they vote.

Enacted this spring, it unleashed a cascade of contention since Governor Tom Corbett signed it in March. It has been hailed, assailed, praised, condemned, defended, attacked, cursed and blessed.

Most Pennsylvanians like it according to polls, although the same polls suggest many don’t understand it well. The law’s goal, to prevent voter fraud, enjoys universal support, yet doubt exists that much fraud actually exists.

Sorting out the facts of Voter ID—many of which we are only now learning—doesn’t paint an encouraging picture.

  • The law’s purpose appears to be a sham.

Its stated objective, to prevent voter fraud, seems to be a classic case of a solution looking for a problem. Evidence of significant voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

Nationally, not a single person was found guilty of impersonating another voter between 2002 and 2007 (the latest data available). A GOP advocacy group last year did identify 400 fraud prosecutions over the previous decade. Even if true, however, this would still be less than one fraud a year per state.

In Pennsylvania alone, there have been only four fraud convictions over the last eight years, none of which would have been prevented by the new law.

  • The law potentially disenfranchises hundreds of thousands.

Using data recently released by the Corbett administration, some 750,000 Pennsylvanians could be barred from voting by the law.

But legislators voting for the bill in March were told the law would affect as few as one tenth of one percent of voters. The highest estimate was put at 100,000 voters. Putting the kindest construction on it, the March legislation was sloppily prepared before being rushed through the legislature without consideration of its potential impact.

  • The law is politically motivated.

Voter suppression (i.e., discouraging certain groups from voting) is apparently the real motivation of the law. Republicans have frantically denied this, but their own House majority leader publicly acknowledged it last month.

Showing perhaps more candor than canniness, Representative Mike Turzai implied the law had the partisan goal of winning the presidential election for Mitt Romney.

“Voter ID,” proclaimed Turzai, “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Smoking guns don’t get clearer than that.

  • The law is discriminatory.

It disproportionately hits Democratic voters, notably older, younger, minority and poor voters. However, it also will affect Republican voters statewide.

The GOP stronghold of Cumberland County is estimated to have the largest number of affected voters outside Philadelphia. Cumberland is closely followed by Republican Cameron County.

The stunning high numbers of voters involved evoke sordid memories of voters suppression techniques practiced in the American South in the pre-civil rights era.

  • The law is duplicative.

Almost undiscussed is that Pennsylvania already has a voter ID law in place for first-time voters. It is one that has been neither difficult to implement nor controversial.

Now, by replacing a simple law that works with a convoluted one that won’t, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that more sinister motives were at work in passing Voter ID. In fixing what was not broken, the legislature risks breaking what was already fixed.

  • The legislation is untested.

The Corbett administration ran a trial run of Voter ID during the spring 2012 primary, but with few races and low turnout, it provided no real test of what will happen during a close presidential election with high turnout.

We are barely 12 years from the national agony suffered in 2000 in the disputed Bush/Gore election. But that electoral calamity may be mild compared to what these voter ID laws can produce. And counting Pennsylvania, some 30 states may have new voter ID laws on their books by November.

The conclusions are inescapable.

Voter ID was not well thought out, planned or executed. Many legislators voting for it did not know how many people would be affected. In addition, the noxious whiff of voter suppression motives is pervasive. There cannot be a greater crime in a democracy than systematically attempting to prevent eligible voters from exercising the franchise. It’s truly a repulsive act.

What should we do now?

Common sense screams the obvious solution.

We should simply suspend implementation of the new law until an election or two of trial runs shows us how it works and with what effects. Rolling it out in the middle of a presidential contest is sheer folly.

There are many ways to delay implementation. The simplest is for Governor Corbett to declare a moratorium on applying Voter ID until it has been thoroughly studied. The courts can also do it, and many believe they will.

However we do it, the 2012 presidential election is the wrong time to introduce Voter ID to Pennsylvania. In an age of seemingly insoluble problems and endless challenges, this is one we can still avoid.

20 thoughts on “Politically Uncorrected: Thinking About Voter ID

  1. It is very difficult to educate people about the new law or help them secure a photo ID because they keep changing the law. It is July 23 and they have changed it again and the new forms won’t be available until the end of August. Also, even though our town has a photo licensing center you can not obtain the needed ID here but instead must travel by bus which costs $7.00 and also requires walking on a very dangerous raod. In a democracy the voters choose the govenment, the government doesn’t choose the voters.

  2. Obviously, there are forces in the land who want to throw things into the ugliest of reversals. Amazingly, they are not even the least bit ashamed to speak their intentions out loud. Voter suppression is not what we celebrated on July 4th. The days of Jim Crow and the murders of people who had the courage to peacefully fight back are not the American dream. Take back America ? Let’s work together to move our nation forward. Everyone deserves a seat at the table and a place inside the voting booth. Take the Voter ID Law off the table. This law is mean-spirited and just plain wrong.

  3. I have thought for years that we need voter picture ID. My vote is too important to be x-ed out by someone who shouldn’t be voting. We use photo ids for many different things. Why not to vote? If you can’t get an id how are you going to be able to get to the polls? Republicans will be affected too. Please, if this can cause Romney to win the state Obama must really be in trouble here already. I really think it levels the playing field for everyone. It has nothing to do with discrimination and the Jim Crow laws from the 60′s. I remember them.

  4. Is there any practical way of protesting the Voter ID law at the polls if it stays in place?
    At the primary, I refused to show my ID, but if I do that in the general election, I’m concerned my vote won’t count even if I do follow up in the next five days with the required information.

  5. All that was done by this Law was to drive underground any fraud there may have been.

    In the past, any fraud could have been caught at the polling locations, but because of this new law, potential fraud will now be via Absentee Ballots, which do not require photo ID.

  6. I wish I had more time to respond, but let me rattle off some facts:
    1. Voter fraud is very difficult to convict someone of unless police powers are used to collect evidence at polling places. And for many reasons, police shy away from doing law enforcement surrounding elections.
    2. I have personally identified dozens of individuals registered to non-existent urban addresses (some w/ voting records) and had them removed from from the rolls.
    3. Those committing fraud exploit the fact that you often won’t be able to see a record of a fraudulent voter’s vote because once identified, the record is removed from publically available voter lists.
    4. Good questions raised above about individuals voting in another’s place and unmatched signatures. Reports of this occuring based on surveys of voters and their voting record are legion…including a Philadelphia study reported on just this year.
    5. There is no check on citizenship to get on PA voter roles (only verification that the self reported SSN exists).

    I could go on and on. I agree that the legislature could open up old records to get some of these skeletons out of the closet. But, it doesn’t negate the fact that we have both rights AND responsibilities.

  7. PennDOT estimated in 2006 that the number of PA voters without ID was 691,000 – did our crack administration really think the number would decline from nearly 700,000 to 90,000 (1%) in 6 years?
    And why did no one call them on that lowball estimate of 1% of voters without ID?

  8. The only study the GOP legislature did was identify which forms of ID to disallow to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.

  9. The voters who sued to challenge the PA Photo ID Law — all citizens (one a veteran) who are registered to vote and have been voting for years — do not have have and, more importantly, cannot obtain one of the approved forms of photo ID. Therefore, they are disenfranchised by the law. You can read more about it here: http://freeandequalpa.wordpress.com/summary-of-applewhite-petition/

    Disenfranchising voters to solve a non-existent problem makes no sense. The fact is, there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud — the only type of fraud a requirement that voters show ID can prevent — is actually occurring. If voter impersonation was widespread or even happening occasionally, you would expect to see evidence that voters showed up at polls only to learn that someone already had voted for them. You also would expect to hear evidence that, every once in a while, an impersonator is caught because the poll workers or poll watchers know the voter that the impersonator is attempting to impersonate or the impersonator is unable to convincingly forge the real voter’s signature. But I have not seen any such evidence.

    Also, it would be extremely easy to perform an empirical study to determine if voter impersonation fraud was occurring: (1) check the poll books to see whether people who died before any given election signed in to vote; (2) contact a statistically significant number of voters who signed in to vote at any election and ask whether they in fact voted; and (3) check to see whether anyone who fraudulently registered to vote actually signed in to vote. The Legislature should have undertaken this study to determine that voter impersonation fraud actually is occurring before spending millions of dollars of our taxpayer money to solve what appears to be a non-existent problem.

  10. Word on Twitter is Gene Stilp filed some kind of formal complaint / suit? against the Governor for using Federal money to pay Bravo group to tell us we should be happy about the voter id laws.

    Bravo just hosted a Romney fundraiser recently too. How ironic.

  11. This whole debate is a joke. There are examples of voter fraud, but the reason there is not more is that it is so easy to do and nobody is enforcing the law. The Dem arguments are a joke and it is so common sense to expect ID. I do disagree with the law not allowing for utility bills and other such ID alternatives. By not allowing them, the PAGOP does leave themselves open for partisan attacks.

  12. If there was voter fraud why didn’t then Attorney General Corbett prosicute them? Now that he is Governor Corbett he says that there needs to be a law stopping voter fraurd. What a Hypocrite….Count them ZERO CASES.

  13. We are also rolling out $5 Million in advertising spend alone for voter suppression. More boys were sodomized by Jerry Sandusky than cases of voter fraud prosecuted by AG Corbett.

  14. I think this is terrible and I think the people of PA should stand up against this thug turzai and vote him out of office. typical republican if you know you can’t win fair, cheat! Pathetic bunch of people they make me sick. I will never vote for a republican again!

  15. I have been voting in the same ward for 30 years. I’m not going to show ID. It’s election day, I’m a citizen, I’m voting. Should be interesting!

  16. Turzai is pure evil and the devil re-incarnated. What a despicable sad-excuse for a human being.

  17. I agree with all of your conclusions except: “Voter ID was not well thought out, planned or executed.”
    I would contend that it was, in fact, well thought out, planned and executed using specific guidelines provided by ALEC. The very real purpose, as Mike Turzai confirmed when he let the cat out of the bag, was voter suppression and a bald attempt to manipulate the election in PA to allow Romney to win.

  18. mr m & y , r correct & everyone of “common sense” and honesty will admit it. please be advised that they r objective & unbiased profs. who tell it like it is, regardless of which party or person says it. and as far as mr t. is concerned, the PG ed. 06-28-12
    stated mr t. should be commended for his brief moment of honesty.
    regardless of which party it

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