Common Sense and Voter ID

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This editorial from USA Today expresses a reasonable take on the issue. Interesting how the right ignores the 2nd part of the bipartisan panel recommendation about phasing ID laws in over a 5 year period. USA Today calls it right that these repub governors have a political agenda in pushing for immediate voter ID laws.

"Editorial: Voter IDs, done right, can work

Supporters of laws that require voters to have a photo ID say that even one fraudulent ballot undermines the electoral process. Fair enough.

But the reverse is also true: Even one eligible voter who loses the right to vote because of a flawed ID law undermines fair elections and cheats that citizen of democracy's most fundamental right.

The problem is living up to both of these noble sentiments simultaneously.

Requiring voters to show ID at the polls to prove that they are who they say they are, and that they're eligible to vote, is a reasonable precaution against fraud. Fraudulent in-person voting seems to be far rarer than other, more effective forms of vote stealing, but it happens, and it could conceivably swing a razor-tight election."

Given that concern, this page agreed with the recommendation of the bipartisan commission headed by former Democratic president Jimmy Carter and former Republican secretary of State James Baker, which called for uniform photo ID for voters. But ID supporters typically ignore the other half of the panel's advice: Any ID requirement should be phased in over five years, and states should bend over backwards to make sure eligible voters can get free IDs, including sending out mobile units to provide them.

That's not what's happening. The almost exclusively Republican state lawmakers and governors who have rushed to impose voter ID laws in time for this fall's elections seem to care more about requiring an ID than ensuring that every legal voter can get one. Studies show that the 10% of Americans who lack acceptable ID tend to be low-income, minorities, the elderly and urban residents, who tend to vote Democratic.

It's awfully hard not to see a deliberate political agenda here, and the ongoing tribulations of Pennsylvania's new voter ID law illustrate the point.

Pennsylvania's law was passed by the state's Republican legislature and signed by its GOP governor in March. Though it was supposedly aimed at combating vote fraud, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai gave away the game at a June meeting of the Republican State Committee as he ticked off a list of legislative accomplishments: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done."

More recently, a seven-day trial in a lawsuit against the new ID requirement lifted the veil further. The state stipulated early in the proceedings that it had no evidence of past vote fraud, would not argue that there was any, and had no evidence that vote fraud would occur in the absence of the new law.

Lawyers attacking the law presented more than a dozen legal voters who had tried to get voter ID but could not. Testimony showed that Pennsylvania officials had no good idea how many of the state's roughly 8.2 million voters lacked ID acceptable under the new law. The first estimate was 89,000, which was then raised to 759,000. Testimony at the trial showed it could be almost 1.5 million.

To its credit, the Pennsylvania Department of State has been scrambling to make it easier for people without ID to get it. But trial testimony suggested that for all those efforts, state officials still grossly underestimate how many people need ID and overestimate the state's ability to provide it by Election Day.

The Pennsylvania court that heard the challenge to the voter ID law is expected to rule as early as next week. There and elsewhere, it makes sense to move deliberately to make sure the laws are implemented fairly. Otherwise, efforts to ensure clean elections can too easily turn into schemes to suppress the vote.

Jun. 29, 2012 9:24 am

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