On March 14, 2012, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a contentious piece of legislation requiring Pennsylvania voters to present photo ID at the polls in order to cast their ballot this coming November. The law has proven to be a polemical issue, resulting in a schism in which the Republican sponsors and supporters of the legislation argue its necessity to ensure against voter impersonation at polls and opponents claim it is a thinly veiled attempt at voter suppression or disenfranchisement.
Corbett signed the bill into law just hours after it was passed by the Pa. House, an unusually quick turnaround
If the law succeeds in disenfranchising minority voters it may be a masterful stroke of political stratagem on the part of the Republicans, as 95 percent of black voters cast a ballot for Obama and only 4 percent for McCain in the 2008 election, illustrating the political leanings of the demographic. With Pennsylvania a swing state and an estimated 25 percent of the state's African-American voting base without photo ID, the law also takes effect just in time to potentially sway the November general election.
The primaries in April have seen a soft rollout of the law in which provisional ballots can be cast and voters instructed on how to obtain a valid ID under the law prior to the November election.
And while supporters of the provision point to its providing for free photo ID to anyone who requests it at a Department of Transportation Photo License Center, critics say some may find it difficult to obtain photo identification as they are without the birth certificates and underlying documentation needed to do so, or the wherewithal to stand in line for hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
For those reading this under the misperception that Photo Licensing Centers statewide are as efficient, expeditious, and commodious as those in rural areas, visit one in a city center like that of Philadelphia. Take the day, because you will likely need the majority of a 24-hour period to navigate the angry throngs, the discourteous and unknowledgeable staff and utter labyrinth of frustration that is the urban DMV.
Anyway, I digress, but in an effort to illustrate that government offices do not function the same everywhere and access to those services is not always equivalent. In short, I guess you could say all DMVs are not created equal.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians are without photo ID, with senior citizens comprising half that figure.
Under the law, valid forms of identification include: driver’s license, military ID, passport and state-licensed care facilities. ID cards from state-accredited colleges and universities are acceptable only if they contain an expiration date and the issuing institution is in Pennsylvania. College IDs from out-of-state schools will not be acceptable.
The problem with the accepted forms of identification listed is the fact that there are those, including college IDs, which rarely include the required expiration date. State-licensed care facility identification cards also often lack any expiration date. Surely the confusion likely to result from the implementation of this law will further the suppression of votes. The question to be posed to Republican lawmakers is whether voter impersonation is truly a greater threat to the Democratic process than voter suppression.
While Republicans stress the need for the law in combating voter impersonation, the actual existence or prevalence of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania has come into question.
According to the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, of the 19.4 million ballots cast since 2004, four cases of voter misrepresentation or impersonation have been recorded.
In 2005, the Brennan Center for Justice successfully challenged a Georgia Federal Court's upholding of a law requiring voters to present photo ID at polling stations. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief on the grounds that voter fraud in the form of impersonation was exceedingly rare-- rare enough to fail in providing justification for the ID requirement.
While acknowledging the instances of voter impersonation are rare in districts like his, State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield/Elk, stressed the importance of such a mandate in urban centers, where he claims voter fraud is more prevalent.
"What this will do then is make sure that people showing up at the polls are who they say they are. Certainly as a representative of one of the rural areas of the Commonwealth, it is my concern that we see a large instance of fraud going on in our urban areas, and so I think it is important that those of us in the rural areas ensure that our votes are not cancelled out by fraud in some of these areas, that we enact these reforms that will enable us to ensure that 'one person, one vote' is the standard by which our votes are counted," Gabler said in an interview on Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus Radio last month.
It is the population of those very urban areas referenced by Gabler that critics of the law claim will be disproportionately and adversely effected by the legislation, as many residents of city centers rely on mass transportation and often lack a driver's license or state-issued photo ID. For those who feel, "If you're too stupid and/or lazy to get a photo ID, then you have no business voting," as a chatboard post on the subject reads, again I would refer you to the embodiment of Dante's Island of Mount Purgatory that is the urban DMV center. In addition, I must insist that this is not an issue of inconvenience, but rather one of a Constitutional right, that of the right to vote. Where is the outrage over the interference with that right, at any level or in any guise, that this law represents? If we allow political parties to promote partisan agendas at the expense of individual rights, the national foundation is further degraded, setting the stage for more of us to simply fall through the cracks.
At the end of the day, the legal precedent does not favor Pennsylvania's voter ID law, as virtually identical laws in South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas were recently nullified by courts in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice. But on the other hand, Kansas' voter ID law has so far successfully withstood legal scrutiny. So it remains to be seen if the Pennsylvania law will survive potential legal challenges until or beyond Election Day, and if so, what impact the law will have on voter turnout.
- By Colin Deppen, Daily Press Staff Writer