IN MARCH, the Republican-led legislature of Pennsylvania passed a law that will require voters to present valid photo IDs to receive ballots. As inherently suspicious as this measure was from the start, the full magnitude of its potential effect became clear only last week, when state officials released data revealing that approximately 9 percent of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters — many of whom have voted regularly for years — lack any such identification. Come November, more than 758,000 people could be barred from the polls. That would be a crime against democracy.
In the same vein as other measures recently enacted in states such as Indiana and Texas — where the Justice Department rightly struck down a proposed restriction — Pennsylvania’s law was originally presented as a means of combating alleged voter fraud. Although fraud of any kind has no place in the functioning of a proper democracy, there’s hardly any evidence that it’s a threat. As reported in Rolling Stone last fall, of the 300 million votes cast between 2002 and 2007, federal investigators charged only 86 individuals with any type of fraud — and the vast majority of these cases concerned ex-felons and immigrants ignorant of their own eligibility. Not one person was convicted for impersonating another at the polls.
In practice, then, whom are these laws excluding? By and large, all evidence suggests that they discourage participation among poor, minority and younger voters — groups that tend to support Democratic candidates. Unfortunately, in the case of Pennsylvania, the political motivation behind the new law isn’t even subtle. Last month, the state’s House Republican leader Mike Turzai included it in a checklist of conservative legislative accomplishments. As he told an audience to resounding applause: “Voter ID, which is going to allow . . . [presidential candidate Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” It’s troubling to think that there are lawmakers in this country who genuinely wish to exclude fellow citizens from the polls solely for political reasons.
Pennsylvania has said that other forms of photo identification, including U.S. passports, military identification and student IDs, will be acceptable in addition to driver’s licenses and the non-driver PennDot IDs. However, as the driver’s license is the primary form of identification for many, these alternatives are unlikely to bring many of the excluded 9 percent back into the fold. The state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has rightly sued, arguing that the law violates the state’s constitution by depriving certain citizens of a fundamental constitutional right, the right to vote.
The courts should listen and issue an injunction that prevents the enforcement of this law before the November election. The rising trend of voting restrictions must be stopped.