Pennsylvania passes controversial voter photo-ID law

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March 22, 2012

By Maresa Strano


HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: On March 14, the Keystone state became the 16th state to enact a law requiring its residents to show photo identification at the polls in order for their votes to be counted.[1] Devised to curb voter fraud, House Bill 934, also known as the Photo Voter-ID bill, bulletted through the PA state legislature and across Gov. Tom Corbett's desk on Wednesday to become, in the majority view of Democrats, the latest notch in the GOP's nationwide "war on voting."[2]

Although Corbett's signature put the new law into immediate effect, mandatory presentation of photo-IDs will not be enforced until this year's general election. Voters who turn up unprepared on April 24th for PA's primary election--that is, without a current Government-issued ID, student ID, or nursing home ID with photo--will be reminded at that time of the change. The idea is to give those who have not yet been informed of the new requirements or who do not possess proper ID enough space to make the necessary preparations for implementation in November.

Pennsylvania State Senate Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi opened the Senate debate on the bill two weeks ago by stating, "This bill is a simple, commonsense measure to protect the integrity of the voting process, which is the very foundation of our democracy."[3]

Negative reactions to HB934's passage, ranging from displeased to indignant to bewildered, have largely been directed at statements such as Sen. Pileggi's, which capture what the Democrats argue is the law's dubious premise: that "the integrity of the voting process, which is the very foundation of our democracy" is under severe threat from widespread voter-impersonation. These critics do not challenge the theory that imposing stricter ID requirements would mitigate such a threat; Rather, they challenge the reality of the threat for which the law is intended.

Reports of cases prosecuted against voter-impersonators are extremely scarce. Indeed, neither Pileggi nor any other Republican proponent could deliver a specific example of fraud during the Senate debate.[4] State Senator John Blake of Lackawanna County cited a greater likelihood of a Pennsylvania citizen getting "struck by lightning" than impersonated at the polls.[5] According to Rep. Babette Joseph (D) "We had only four incidents out of 20 million votes cast."[6] Gov. Corbett referred to suspicious precinct turnout rates of 112% while defending the bill's merits,[6] but he did not encounter any cases addressing this brand of voter-fraud during his nearly 8 total years serving as PA's attorney general.

The consensus among Democrats, many of whom are already supporting ACLU and other liberal organizations' efforts to challenge the law in court, is that given the low incidence of voter-impersonation, imposing stricter ID requirements is "a solution in search of a problem."[5][7]

Furthermore, numerous Democratic state legislators have taken umbrage with HB934 on social and fiscal grounds. On the social end, the primary complaint is that the bill disenfranchises voters, specifically elderly, poor, and minority voters who are least likely to possess photo-identification- and more likely to vote democrat. While the law does promise to provide a free ID card to any legally eligible voter, a voter must first obtain a Social Security card, birth certificate or certificate of residency, along with two proofs of residency. Gathering these items does often cost money. An estimated up to 700,000 Pennsylvanians could be excluded from casting their ballots as a result of the law.[8]

From a fiscal standpoint, the law's expense seems difficult to justify against the billions of dollars Corbett's administration has cut from education, human services, and economic development.

"At a time when we need to focus on creating jobs and getting the economy back on track, Pennsylvania Republicans have spent significant time trying to disenfranchise voters at a cost of $11 million to taxpayers," said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn.[5] The cost will go to educating voters and poll workers on the change, and making photo-IDs.

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