Inquirer Editorial: Don't make it hard to vote

Posted: October 10, 2011

Even as Americans use their free-speech rights through the Occupy Wall Street movement to express frustration with the less affluent's having to bear the brunt of a poor economy, their ability to generate change through their votes is being shamefully attacked.

In 14 states controlled by Republican legislators, voters face new restrictions that "could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012," says a new study from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

The restrictions will harm specific groups: students and the elderly, the poor and disabled, urbanites, and minorities. They are the folks less likely to have drivers' licenses or other forms of state-issued identification, the most popular restriction in the laws. The absurdity of photo-ID rules is clearest in Texas, where a handgun license is an acceptable form of identification, but a student ID card is not.

Beyond the ID requirement, five states have reduced their extended voting periods. In an attack on minority voters, Florida cut voting on the Sunday before Election Day. That Sunday is when many African American churches run their "Souls to the Polls" drives.

Democrats have a valid point in charging that the wave of restrictive laws is meant to keep their voters from getting to the polls for the 2012 presidential election.

In America's most recent history, voting laws have mostly been aimed at getting more people to vote by making it easier to register, and opening polls for days before elections. These new, regressive laws push back the essential rights of individuals to participate in their governance.

Embarrassingly, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of American liberties, is joining the backward states. A bill cynically titled the Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act, which requires state-issued photo IDs, has Gov. Corbett's support. Already, state voters must show photo IDs when voting in a new polling place.

The legislation, which cleared the House in June, would cost $11 million to implement. With so many other needs, why would the state spend that much money to muffle the voices of citizens? The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), says he wants to stop voter fraud. But between 2004 and 2010, only four people in the state have been convicted of voter fraud at the polls.

A frequently heard complaint is that not enough people vote. Perhaps more would do so if their state legislators were attending to the serious problems with our economy - and not hiding behind a mask of piety to undermine civil liberties. The Senate should kill this bill before it gets to the governor's desk.

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