Vexing the voters: ID bills are the wrong signal for the times

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Between rain and apathy, today's primary election is unlikely to attract a large voter turnout -- and that's a shame. Those voters who do go to the polls out of a sense of civic duty will make important decisions that will shape the general election in the fall.

In too many elections, low turnout is the big winner. In the past, on the theory that democracy benefited from more participation, legislative efforts focused on making voting and registering to vote easier. That the push in Pennsylvania now is to discourage voting is a sorry measure of how much politics has fallen.

Two similar bills in Harrisburg would require voters to present a photo ID. HB 934 by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican from Cranberry, at first blush appears to be reasonable, given that modern life often requires people to show photo ID. But the fact is that such a move would be a burden on the poor, the very people most in need of politicians who will speak for them.

Mr. Metcalfe's bill now contains a provision for the state to provide a free photo ID to anybody who needs one. That's fine, but it won't lessen the hassle for those who are made to go to a state Department of Transportation office to secure their right to vote. This discouragement of voters will also come at a cost -- the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that the state would spend $11 million in the first year of such an ID program.

And for what? This is a costly remedy to no discernible problem, except in the fevered imagination of partisans such as Mr. Metcalfe. (First-time voters in Pennsylvania are already required to show ID, although not necessarily photo ID). If voters today are scant at the polls, think how much worse it will be if politicians succeed in passing voter discouragement by bureaucracy.


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