Gov. Corbett has endorsed a plan to require Pennsylvanians to present photo ID each time they vote, regardless of how long they had been voting at their polling place. Under this legislation, a poll worker who let a longtime friend or neighbor vote without first showing ID, even if that person had voted at that polling place for 30 years, would be committing a crime, even risking a prison sentence.
The governor contends that this bill is necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud - but that's not the case. It would, however, disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who, conveniently enough for our Republican governor, tend to vote Democratic.
In support of this bill, Corbett's secretary of state, Carole Aichele, points only to allegations that the group ACORN committed improprieties while registering voters. Assuming the truth of those allegations, this bill has nothing to do with, and would have no impact on, voter-registration practices. The only form of fraud voter ID would prevent is voter impersonation, something that almost never happens.
A study conducted by President George W. Bush's Justice Department found that, out of more than 300 million votes cast from 2002 to 2007, there were only 86 cases of voter fraud nationwide and that most of them involved immigrants who misunderstood their eligibility. In Pennsylvania, since 2004, there have been more than 20 million votes cast and four convictions for fraud, all of which involved people registering when not eligible. None of these cases involved someone pretending to be someone she was not.
Fraudulently impersonating a voter is already a felony. Risking years in prison to gain an undeserved vote seems like a low-gain, high-risk crime, which is probably why it never happens. In addition, a voter already has to show proof of who he is the first time he votes in a new precinct. Thus, under current law, Pennsylvania has significant and apparently effective protections in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process.
The Corbett administration's State Department also contends that "99 percent of eligible voters currently have acceptable photo IDs." I took the liberty of calling the department and asking how that figure was calculated. It turns out they took the total number of photo IDs that PennDOT has issued and divided by the number of eligible voters in Pennsylvania.
The problem is that there are many thousands of currently valid IDs issued to people who have died; have moved; are legal, noncitizen immigrants; or are not eligible to vote for other reasons. Thus, it is misleading to connect the numbers of IDs and voters. After I publicized this critique of its methodology, the Department of State changed its claim from "99 percent" to "the vast majority." Clearly, it is likely that vast majority means something significantly less that 99 percent.
It is more likely that the number of Pennsylvania voters without photo IDs is close to the national figures, which are startling. According to the Washington Post, 11 percent of all Americans lack photo ID, including 20 percent of voters younger than 29, 15 percent of those earning less than $35,000 per year, and a full quarter of all African Americans.
In other words, to solve a problem that does not exist in our state, we are going to disenfranchise about 700,000 Pennsylvania voters. These voters - poor people, African Americans, and students - tend to disproportionately vote Democratic. Thus, voter-ID legislation appears to be yet another cynical effort to rig future elections by people who have no respect for the democratic process and whose only concern is winning. It is ironic that this effort is occurring in the state where representative democracy was born.