All this time we thought Republicans hated government waste and bureaucracy, unfunded mandates and over-reaching laws that infringe on freedom. Was that just an act? Because Pennsylvania's voter ID law requiring certain kinds of photo identification for most voters is the very embodiment of that loathsome list.
1. It will "solve" a problem that doesn't exist.
2. It will impose unnecessary hardship on those least able to overcome it.
3. It will squander millions of scarce public dollars.
4. Its application will be inconsistent.
5. It will impede the freedom -- not to mention the constitutional right -- to vote.
Let's examine these points one at a time, like a microbiologist examines bacteria. Please put on your face mask and latex gloves in order to avoid contagion.
1. Gov. Tom Corbett's administration admitted last week that it lacked a single instance of in-person voter fraud, which is what the law is supposed to stop. So the only "problem" it actually addresses is that too many young, elderly, disabled, low-income and minority folks have been voting. They're the ones least likely to hold a valid drivers license or U.S. passport that would serve as ID. Did I mention that these folks tend to vote Democratic?
2. People without the right kind of ID -- containing a current photo and expiration date -- must obtain same at a PennDOT driver license center. A limited number of other acceptable IDs does not include some that voters would expect it to, such as a card from Medicare or the Veterans Administration.
The elderly, infirm, poor and disabled have the hardest time getting to a licensing center because so many don't have access to cars. Public transportation is not always a viable option for the sick and frail, especially with ongoing cutbacks in routes, service and stops.
Also, the documents voters need to prove their official existence can be maddeningly difficult to obtain. People move away from their hometowns, courthouses that keep birth records burn down or lose them, women change their names.
3. The governor has been slashing funding statewide, yet he's allotted $5 million to get the word out. Spending that kind of money to neutralize a nonexistent threat is nuts. Especially when it's a fraction of what's needed to get the message through to every eligible voter. An all-out effort would send mobile units to every senior high rise, for example, but no such plan has been announced.
A new study of the law's likely impact found that only 62 percent of eligible voters knew about the new law, and 13 percent thought they had a valid photo ID when in reality they did not. That's going to make for a fun day at the polls. Mark Wolosik, head of the Allegheny County Elections Bureau, is warning people to expect long lines as poll workers try to sort out eligibility. This for neighbors they know perfectly well and see at every election. But actually being Nancy Smith won't help Nancy Smith vote if she doesn't have the right photo ID. Havoc city, here we come, and for no good reason.
4. Residents requesting an absentee ballot may vote simply by giving the last four digits of their Social Security number. As state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said to loud applause at a voter ID forum last week, "If that's good enough for them, it should be good enough for everyone." Furthermore, the PennDOT photo card is supposed to be free, but the ACLU, suing in Commonwealth Court to void the law, has reports of people being charged money by a clerk. Poll tax, anyone?
5. Some 14.4 percent of eligible voters in Pennsylvania lack a valid ID for voting purposes. In Allegheny County, the percentage is 18.7 -- highest in the state -- or almost 300,000 people. Statewide, 27.6 percent lack both the proper ID and one of the documents needed to get one. (For a list of accepted documents, see the ACLU website.)
As for disproportionate effect, the study found 22 percent of voters in households earning $20,000 or less lacked a valid photo ID, vs. 8.2 percent of those in the $80,000-plus range.
These gaps are more than enough to swing an election, which is exactly what state Republicans had in mind. Rep. Mike Turzai actually admitted it when addressing his fellow party members: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania -- done."
The voter ID law was on trial last week in Commonwealth Court, with the ACLU calling it what it is: voter suppression. But since voter fraud has proven to be a complete fabrication, state attorneys haven't even tried to show a need for it. Their argument boils down to this: We did it because we could.
Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley told the court on Tuesday that proof of in-person voter fraud wasn't necessary. If legislators "could imagine a valid reason for a statute" and write a law that achieves that purpose in a rational way, they meet their constitutional burden.
Really? I can imagine all sorts of scenarios that don't exist but that could use a law to stop them anyway. Boater ID could prohibit ocean liners from plying the Youghiogheny River. Moater ID could prevent Downtown high-rises from installing watery trenches with alligators.
In "protecting the integrity of the vote," state Republicans have compromised it more than ever. They are setting up roadblocks for, by their own revised reckoning, 758,000 registered voters, although the real number could surpass a million, all to defend against a pretend peril.
If this law is allowed to stand, we're going to resemble a third-world country in November. Quick, somebody call Jimmy Carter. Tell him to wear latex gloves.sallykalson
Sally Kalson is a staff writer and columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412 263-1610).