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Voter ID is dead but conspiracy theories live on

The fight for Voter ID in Pennsylvania has been over for two years. But the conspiracy theories that drove that now-defunct law still smolder.

The fight for Voter ID in Pennsylvania has been over for two years. But the conspiracy theories that drove that now-defunct law still smolder.

In 2012, then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed into law a requirement that voters show photo identification at polling places.

He gave up on the legal defense of the law two years later when a state Commonwealth Court judge overturned it, noting that supporters offered nothing but "vague concern about voter fraud."

Speaking of which, have you heard of the American Civil Rights Union?

The Virginia-based proponent of state Voter ID laws sued the Philadelphia City Commissioners in April, claiming that the commissioners did not respond to a request for information about what they were doing to purge the voting rolls of people who have died, were ineligible to vote, or had moved.

The ACRU howled with outrage in a news release last week that it had learned in a June 30 meeting with city officials "that the city doesn't remove or even flag incarcerated felons who are ineligible to vote in Pennsylvania."

It was a whole new game to the ACRU, which filed an amended complaint against the city and asked U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II to order the city to "remove all ineligible felons" from the voter rolls by Aug. 10.

And that's where it all apparently went wrong for the Voter ID fans.

Jones on Friday gave the ACRU until Aug. 4 to explain why he shouldn't slap it with sanctions for what he called "an incorrect recitation" of federal voting law.

The ACRU claims the National Voter Registration Act requires the removal of incarcerated felons from the voting rolls.

J. Christian Adams, the ACRU policy board member who originally filed the lawsuit, told me the same thing last week.

Jones, in his order, said the ACRU "fails to support this characterization of the statute with a single case citation."

And that's the thing about Voter ID - people who push for it always seem so long on bombast and so short on evidence.

Here is the law in Pennsylvania: Registered voters incarcerated before trial are allowed to vote by absentee ballot. Voters convicted of a felony lose the right to vote while incarcerated. That right is restored upon release.

Adams last week stood by his legal claims.

"That's what the federal law requires," he said. "You cannot have ineligible voters on the rolls. Period. Game over."

And then he floated a new conspiracy theory: What if incarcerated felons are getting their hands on absentee ballots?

I asked: Could he point to a case of that happening? He dodged. I asked again. He dodged again.

Later, Adams emailed me links to stories about drugs and cellular phones smuggled into prisons.

"If drugs can get into Pa. prisons, I suspect other things can," he wrote.

Let's set aside the easy-to-mock notion of contraband absentee ballots trading in prison black markets like cell-made hooch and cigarettes. Focus on the word "suspect."

Again, Voter ID is about suspicion, not proof.

Linda Kerns, a local attorney for the ACRU - and a deputy counsel for the Republican City Committee, which is not involved in the suit - said the group will respond in writing to the judge.

"As a Pennsylvania voter, I want to make sure that the voter rolls only include people who are actually eligible to cast a vote," Kerns said. "I think that my fellow citizens in the commonwealth would agree with me."