Philadelphia Metropolis


An Insidious Intent

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Pennsylvania's new Voter ID law is toxic legislation with an insidious intent.

It is designed to rig the November election to favor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for President.

That is not it's stated goal.  Originally, the requirement that voters show a valid and official ID before being allowed to vote was billed as a way to stop voter fraud.

After it was determined that there was little or no voter fraud in the state, the rationale shifted.  The goal of the law is to prevent the possibility of voter fraud, as Gov. Corbett put it.

Unfortunately, state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai strayed off message.  In talking to fellow Republican legislators last month, checking off the accomplishments of the session, Turzai told them: "Voter ID - which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania - done."

Since the law passed, its proponents have sought to minimize its impact.  The official ID favored by the law is a driver's license.  And, supporters argue, since most Pennsylvanians have licenses, complying with the law will be a snap.

That argument has more holes than a colander. According to PennDOT, there are 1.6 million Pennsylvanians without driver's licenses.

Last week, the Department of State issued data that showed that of that 1.6 million who lack licenses, 758,000 are currently registered to vote.  The department, which oversees elections, used the data to assert that the problem is a small one, that "only" nine percent of voters statewide lack the necessary ID.

But, if you run that data against the 2008 election returns the insidious intent of the law becomes clear.  The heaviest concentration of voters without PennDOT ID's is in the counties where Barack Obama enjoyed his biggest margins.

In fact, 60 percent of all those voters without ID's (485,000) reside in the 10 counties where Barack Obama won by the widest margins over Republican John McCain.

Leading the way is Philadelphia, which gave Obama 83 percent of the vote.  In this city, 18 percent of the voters (186,000) lack driver's licenses.  In Allegheny County, the figure is 11 percent (99,000).

In contrast, in the 10 Pennsylvania counties that gave McCain his biggest margins in 2008, there are only 13,200 voters who lack driver's licenses, according to the PennDOT data.

You can read a county-by-county breakdown of the numbers here.

It makes sense that the highest concentration of non-drivers would reside in the state's most populous counties.  Those same counties have the largest concentration of poor, black and elderly voters - most of them Democrats who embraced the candidacy of the man who would become America's first black President.

Nothing in the last four years has changed their loyalty.  Obama got 83 percent of the vote in Philadelphia four years ago.  He will get close to that same margin this year.

Unable to lower the margin, the Republicans decided to suppress participation, by setting up barriers through the voter ID requirement.

While insidious, it is also likely to be effective.  In today's toxic political environment,

the end - victory at any cost - trumps the undeniable fact that this requirement will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters from exercising a right fundamental to a democratic society.

With this photo ID requirement, we are dividing Pennsylvania's into the haves and the have nots - and the hurdles set before this second class can be formidable.

The law does not allow a voter to appear with just any proof of an ID - such as a pay stub, a social security number, a work ID - nor to sign an affidavit that attests and avers their identify.  Click here to learn more about the requirements.

Before they go to a PennDOT photo ID station, they must have: an original copy of their birth certificate (with a raised seal, not a photocopy); if their name has changed due to marriage they must also bring a certified copy of their marriage license; their Social Security card (not just the number, the card) and two proofs of residence, such as a tax form, a lease, a utility bill, etc.

They must bring this material to the PennDOT station and have the documentation pass muster with a clerk before they can sit down for their photo. Click here to learn more about the requirements.

As has become evident in recent weeks, not everyone has an original of his or her birth certificate.  Many do not have marriage licenses from a previous marriage, etc. Who among us has an original of their Social Security card? Can you put your hands on it today?

Years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional s poll taxes enacted by Southern states as part of an organized stratagem to stop blacks from voting.  Imposing a financial burden on voters, in effect, denies the poorest among us the right to vote, the court said.

So, what do we have today with the voter ID law?  If you must get an original birth certificate the fee is $35; official copies of marriage licenses can cost $45; replacement Social Security cards are free but can involved a trip to a local SSA office.  In rural counties, the PennDOT ID offices have limited hours (some are open only two days a week.) and can involve a trip of 40 or 50 miles one way.  Even in big cities, the trip involves taking mass transit or cabs.

And what do you do with the elderly Philadelphia woman who has voted all her adult life, but who was born in Georgia.  When she inquired there about getting her birth certificate, she was told that the courthouse had burned down years ago and all the birth records were destroyed in the fire. As a result, she will not be allowed to vote.

There has been voter fraud in Pennsylvania.  I have even helped uncover and expose some of it.  But I can say with certainly that most of it is retail, involving a handful of votes, and none of it involved voter impersonation, which is the only type of voter fraud the ID law will prevent.  (The most common forms of fraud involve the buying of votes and casting false absentee ballots.)

Most of the "fraud" that I have gotten tips about, ended up being examples of mechanical and clerical errors. (See hanging chads in Florida circa 2000.)

Had there been evidence of widespread, systematic and persistent fraud based on voter impersonation, such a drastic law may have been justified.  But, there is no such evidence.

Yet, the impact of this law is even broader than the 758,000 voters who currently lack ID's.  There are an additional 960,000 people over the age of 18 who do not have drivers' licenses.  If the data is correct, most of them also have not registered to vote.

However, presidential election years have a way of drawing out inactive voters. The latest voter data shows 8.2 million Pennsylvanians are registered to vote.  In November 2008, the number was 8.7 million.

Many of these unregistered are likely to take steps, as Election Day draws near, to register to vote.  That's when those without drivers licenses will learn of the new hurdles they must clear first.  If they lack the needed documents, it will be too late to act.

The opponents of the voter ID law correctly assert that it is designed to solve a problem we do not have.  But, it certainly creates a new one.

It is more than insidious, more than toxic, more than a manifestation of extreme partisanship. It tears at the fabric of democracy by attacking the right of universal suffrage.

-- Tom Ferrick








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