GOP makes a phony case for voter ID law

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Republican-dominated statehouses are rushing to pass beefed-up voter ID legislation ahead of the November presidential election. Republican governors are rushing to sign them while droning, in solemn tones, that "voter integrity" is at stake.

Pennsylvania's new law signed this week by Gov. Tom Corbett requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, just in time for the April primary and the November election. Funny how as Pennsylvania's former attorney general, Mr. Corbett never found the time to prosecute a case of the voter fraud his fellow Republicans insist is rampant in the state.

So how did the integrity of the voter rolls move to the top of his agenda?

First, let's eliminate some misconceptions about the governor's motives: You can be sure that despite having 900,000 fewer registered voters than the Democrats in this state, the last thing the Republicans running Harrisburg want to do is discourage the turnout of likely Democratic voters. Just banish that paranoid thought from your pointy little heads.

In fact, it's indisputable that every piece of voter ID legislation passed in 13 state legislatures and fast-tracked in 21 others is aimed at increasing the turnout of university students, minority and elderly voters, despite the fact that they're more likely to vote Democratic. To say otherwise is to -- quite frankly -- acknowledge an overrated thing called reality.

So we have to ask ourselves: When has the Republican Party been anything less than magnanimous, especially when it comes to Democratic voters? Why can't liberal activist groups like the ACLU, AARP and NAACP, let alone the U.S. Department of Justice, see that voter ID laws increase political participation, especially in states like Pennsylvania where the overwhelming majority of citizens qualified to vote stay home on Election Day?

Admittedly, only four cases of voter fraud of some kind have been litigated in Pennsylvania since 2008, but that doesn't mean poll-watchers in Zimbabwe aren't looking to us for tips on how to handle the inconvenient expectations that one is entitled to a vote.

Republicans point to registration errors and fake names on petitions as evidence of probable voter fraud, though there is no evidence that there's a correlation between the two. Still, whether tightening voter ID requirements is a good or bad thing, when the majority of qualified citizens have opted not to participate in the most fundamental ritual of democracy, depends on how one looks at the world.

For instance, there is a widespread belief that a right to privacy is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and that women, as citizens, are entitled to its protections.

Some consider the mandatory ultrasound exams imposed on women who want to end their pregnancies to be a clear violation of a woman's right to privacy. But from the perspective of the male legislators introducing ultrasound legislation across the country, it is about imparting information to expectant mothers. It's not about ending abortion, per se. How could anyone question the purity of their motives?

This brings us back to the irresponsible notion that the lack of actual widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania is somehow evidence that poor, elderly, minority citizens and college students should be left to bask in their enfranchisement unmolested. In the grand tradition of fixing things that ain't broke, the Republicans have come up with a process that increases the aggravation factor when it comes to voting.

None of the requirements for a photo ID will be impossible to meet, but it will make voting inconvenient. While the Republicans aren't erecting literal barriers to voting, they can't say with a straight face that they aren't introducing an element of unprecedented Election Day hassle. That is the point.

In a nation already cursed with low turnouts, there is a fiendish elegance to voter ID laws. It's a tactic exclusively designed to reduce the number of Democratic voters, who will be discouraged by long lines in their precincts caused by the new screening procedures.

The GOP estimates that only 90,000 citizens across the state will have trouble getting the required photo IDs to prove their identities. Liberal groups, meanwhile, estimate that as many as 700,000 might be discouraged from voting under the new protocol.

The point is that Republicans are willing to risk seeing at least 100,000 fewer voters at the polls in November -- most of whom presumably lean Democratic -- all in the name of "voter integrity." Whoever said voting should be easy in America must have been a Democrat.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com ; 412-263-1631; Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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