Voter ID Debate: What About the Numbers?
By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer
With the November elections less than a month away, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele’s wrote an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer giving weight to current legislating in the state senate that would require photo IDs at the polls.
“A Pennsylvania Department of State analysis shows 99 percent of eligible voters currently have acceptable photo IDs,” she wrote, “and proposals under discussion will likely expand the list of photo IDs that can be used. PennDot will supply a free ID for those who need one, so the greatest possible cost to taxpayers is slightly more than $1 million, a small price to ensure the validity of each vote.”
As a member of the Corbett administration and the Commonwealth’s Chief Election Official, it comes as no surprise that Aichele supports this legislation, something she says is meant to safeguard the right to vote for those who are legally entitled to it.
This bill passed the House in late June with all but one Republican voting for the legisation. Democrats generally oppose this type of legislation saying it is aimed at disenfranchising the “bus riders” — senior and low-income residents and students — who often do not have driver’s licenses.
Voter ID laws have been a hot topic since the 2010 elections, which left Republicans with control of 59 chambers of state legislatures and 29 governorships. Fourteen other U.S. states have already passed such legislation.
Aichele’s position that requiring voters to provide a government certified photo ID at the polls to protect against voter fraud is nothing new. However, the statistics she uses to back up her position is what has some heads turning.
Zachary Hoover is Chief of Staff for Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware and Montgomery Counties) who in a recent commentary in The Time Leader said this legislation “will make it harder for people who disproportionately do not vote Republican to vote at all.”
Hoover said the numbers that the Department of State used to arrive at the conclusion that 99% of Pennsylvanians already have adequate IDs to vote under H.B. 934 are based on statistics from PennDOT and the Election Assistance Commission, which show that PennDOT has issued 9.5 million drivers licenses and photo IDs to voting-aged people while there are an estimated 9.6 million voting aged people in the state.
While Hoover does not question that there are 9.6 million people of voting age, he does take issue with using the number of drivers licenses and photo IDs issued by PennDOT to measure the percentage of Pennsylvanians with valid voter IDs.
“There are many problems with the first number that the Department of State has been unable to clear up for us, and which should have been obvious to them before the Secretary used it in her OP-ED,” said Hoover.
Hoover maintained that the total number of divers licenses and photo IDs issued by PennDOT to voting aged people does not take into account people who no longer vote because they have died or moved out of state. He said it is also not clear if this number includes people who were never eligible to vote because they are not American citizens or are barred from voting due to criminal record.
Hoover pointed out that PennDOT does not specify a time frame and therefore the statistic does not indicate if it includes multiple licenses or IDs issued to the same person, either because they changed their personal information or because they lost their license and needed a replacement. It also does not indicate if it includes licenses or IDs issued to people living in Pennsylvania but registered to vote in a different state.
“The Department of State is either unwilling to clarify this information with us, or they do not know. If the latter is the case, it was extremely irresponsible for the Secretary to use it in her OP-ED to reassure voters that their right to the franchise is not being threatened,” said Hoover.
Department of State Spokesman Ron Ruman told PoliticsPA, “We really think the numbers are pretty good. There could be some that fall into each of these categories but we don’t think it’s substantial.”
Ruman said his department thinks the numbers hold “up in that the vast majority of eligible voters currently have a voter ID.”
Aichele wrote that “the Corbett administration supports requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot: to deter fraud and make sure every person’s vote has the weight it deserves in deciding elections.”
Aichele said the measure is necessary to safeguard one person, one vote and addressed those who believe requiring voter ID’s is an unnecessary hassle.
She said voter fraud is a real issue in Pennsylvania, citing a 2009 FBI investigation that led to forgery and election-fraud charges against seven Pittsburgh-area ACORN workers. In 2008, a Philadelphia official submitted more than 8,000 fraudulent ACORN-collected voter-registration forms.
She said the Corbett Administration also supports ID measures for absentee ballots.
Sari Heidenreich contributed to this report.