A court filing by the state of Pennsylvania, ahead of a trial starting later this week on a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups against the state’s new voter fraud law, contains an astounding admission:
The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”
In other words, the state knows that voter fraud is a nonexistent problem, but will nonetheless defend a law that could potentially disenfranchise a huge number of the state’s voters. Of course, it’s not hard to see why the state — and particularly its Republican governor — would continue to support the measure.
The Pennsylvania voter identification law — passed several months ago by state Republicans — is one of the strictest in the country. Under the law, voters are required to show an unexpired government-issued ID. If an ID is not issued by either the state of Pennsylvania or the federal government, then it will not be accepted (for instance, student IDs from schools outside of the state). If you do not have an ID, you can receive a free one as long as you have a Social Security card, official birth certificate, and two proofs of residency.
It’s hard to overstate the problems with this requirement. A report released by the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this month, which compared voter registration rolls with transportation department ID databases, found that more than 758,000 Pennsylvanians lack a driver’s license. According to the report, that amounts to 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters. This disproportionately includes students, minorities and the elderly, who tend to lack government-issued ID. According to the report, more than 21 percent of nonwhites in the state lack ID. In cities with heavy minority populations, like Philadelphia, 18 percent of the voting population lacks official identification. The ID itself is free, but when you consider the time and money involved in assembling the documents necessary to get one, this gap is likely to remain.
Given the complete absence of voter fraud, the law’s rapid implementation, and the strong support from Republican lawmakers, it’s more than clear that this is a crude attempt to suppress Democratic turnout in the election. Pennsylvania Republicans aren’t shy about this fact. State GOP House Leader Mike Turzai recently admitted the extent to which this law serves no purpose other than to elect Republicans:
“We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” said Turzai in a speech to committee members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
It’s unclear how much of an effect this will actually have on the outcome of the election. The groups that lack voter ID are also, typically, the ones least likely to vote in the first place. Moreover, Democrats are working hard to both register voters and help them apply for ID if they don’t have it. But even if the law has a minimal effect on turnout, it’s still worth condemning. Countless Americans fought for more than a century to achieve universal suffrage. This push to keep some people from voting — simply because they disagree — is shameful and frankly, un-American.