Pennsylvania is giving its new voter-suppression program a test run in Tuesday's primary. Voters will get a feel for the sort of intimidation the state has in store for them in the fall.
When they show up at the polls Tuesday, voters must produce a photo ID. But for this one Election Day only, if the ID doesn't pass muster, voters will still be allowed to vote. In November, however, they're out of luck. That's when the voter-ID enforcers can use their authoritarian powers to keep non-driving city dwellers, the elderly, young, poor, and anyone else without an acceptable ID from voting.
To make matters worse, the state keeps changing its definition of an acceptable ID. This week, it said expired driver's licenses are acceptable. That would cover the elderly whose licenses have lapsed. But many non-driving students would still be in trouble.
According to a survey by the PennPIRG consumer advocacy group, students at 91 of 110 schools, including La Salle and Drexel Universities, Haverford College, and the Community College of Philadelphia, can't use their student IDs to vote because they lack expiration dates.
The state acts as if it's the schools' fault that their students may not be allowed to vote. Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele suggested that the colleges should "help their students by adding expiration dates to their ID cards."
Should the students and their parents, already crushed by a mountain of college-loan debt, also pay for their schools to come up with entirely new student identification systems to reduce the impact of this wrongheaded law?
If the colleges do help, they should send their bill to the ill-informed Republican legislature and Gov. Corbett. They created this mess. It is no coincidence that in a presidential election year, Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have passed laws attacking voting rights under the guise of stopping fraud.
Voter impersonation is one of the least common forms of voter fraud. Bill sponsors have been unable to prove it is widespread.
Those least likely to have an acceptable ID also typically vote for Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union, which plans to sue the state over the voter-ID law, says that while Pennsylvania will issue free ID cards to voters, the required underlying documentation, such as a birth certificate, may be hard to obtain and costs money. That amounts to a poll tax.
There also is no indication that election officials have been adequately trained on the photo-ID law, so it is possible voters could be turned away even though they have appropriate identification.
Pennsylvania has long required first-time voters, and those who move into new voting districts, to show identification. But those voters could use a utility bill, bank statement, or paycheck to prove their identity.
The government's job is to help people exercise their right to vote. That's how you create a healthy democracy. Instead, Pennsylvania has chosen to silence voices. The law's prime sponsors, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) and State Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), shouldn't be surprised if voters return the favor by choosing a write-in candidate — Jim Crow, perhaps — above them.