Picture this: Voter ID law is about to pass

Democratic officials in Philadelphia insist that the aim of the voter-ID law is to oust President Obama, who handily defeated John McCain in the city in 2008, from the Oval Office.
Democratic officials in Philadelphia insist that the aim of the voter-ID law is to oust President Obama, who handily defeated John McCain in the city in 2008, from the Oval Office. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: March 09, 2012

VOTER IMPERSONATION is for losers.

Labor-intensive with minimal results, it's typically a fruitless fraud, a laughably ineffective attempt to steal an election.

Perhaps that's why the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School calls voting in someone else's name "an occurrence more rare than getting struck by lightning."

But, hey, getting struck by lightning probably sucks, right?

Fear not, Pennsylvania.

Gov. Corbett and Republicans in Harrisburg are about to put a law on the books that will require all voters to produce state-approved photo identification before they can cast a ballot in November.

"It's gonna happen," Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president of the Committee of Seventy government-watchdog group, said of the voter-ID bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate and expected to pass in the House on Monday.

Corbett's waiting to sign it.

If he does, election officials would use next month's primary to remind voters that a valid ID would be mandatory in the November election.

The state would provide free photo IDs for people who don't have one. Voters without an ID could cast a provisional ballot, but they must provide proof of identity within six days of the election.

In other words, it'll make voting more difficult for some residents.

Democratic politicians and election officials in Philadelphia are apoplectic, saying that the law targets a virtually nonexistent form of voting fraud.

Its ultimate goal, they say, is kicking President Obama out of the White House by reducing turnout among the city's low-income, minority and elderly voters.

"It's part of the Republican agenda to suppress the vote," said state Sen. Vincent Hughes. "That's why I call it the 'voter-suppression rule.' "

State Rep. Rosita Youngblood calls it a "sham." Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. calls it "ridiculous." State Sen. Anthony Williams calls it a "charade" and vows to challenge it in court.

"I think it's just a fear that Philadelphia, in particular, would turn out the way it turned out in the presidential election of November 2008," Goode said.

In Philadelphia in 2008, Obama defeated John McCain, 83 percent to 16 percent - a whopping margin of nearly 479,000 votes that state GOP Chairman Robert Gleason still describes as "almost statistically impossible."

Councilman Bill Green yesterday raised the specter of a showdown between city Democrats and Harrisburg Republicans, suggesting that the city could refuse to follow the voter-ID law altogether.

"Let them come enforce it," Green snarled. "We all take oaths to the Constitution of the state of Pennsylvania, and if we believe it violates the Constitution, we have the right to keep to our oath."

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, defended the bill, saying that it would "increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting process." Asked about the extent of the targeted voter fraud, or to cite a case of a Pennsylvanian impersonating another voter, Pileggi said: "I don't think anyone denies that the potential is there."

Kaplan said she couldn't recall a complaint of voter impersonation. "Not once," she said. "It's just very, very rare."

Of course, successful fraud goes undetected, but voter impersonation is uncommon for a reason: It's usually not worth the trouble.

"You would have to go in, know that somebody is on the rolls, know that the person is not going to come to vote, and take a gamble that somebody sitting at the table doesn't know who that person is, so they don't say, 'I know Joe Jones and you're not Joe Jones,' " Kaplan said. "Could you get away with it? Theoretically. But it's really far-fetched."

About 50 people - including community activists, politicians, ward leaders and others - attended a rally at LOVE Park yesterday with City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, carrying signs that read "Suppressing Votes Is Illegal" and chanting, "Save Our Votes Now."

"I'm trying to push back against the suppression of voting rights," said Nadina Patterson, of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

Carol Jenkins, a Democratic ward leader in University City who teaches political science at Temple University, said the legislation is "a solution looking for a problem."

Singer, chairwoman of the three-person panel that oversees voter registration and elections, said that she is unaware of a single instance of voter impersonation but that she's required to follow state law.

"It's a pretty major expansion of government power in terms of dictating what is and isn't acceptable," said Ari Berman, a contributing writer for The Nation who has written about the GOP's voter-ID push. "It's also a major expenditure. You have to provide free IDs to people that don't have them."

State lawmakers say the bill would cost between $1 million and $5 million to implement.

"Is the medicine worse than the illness?" asked Christopher Borick, a political scientist and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.

"Showing an ID sounds easy, and for most Pennsylvanians it is. But for many on the margin, that's not a trivial item. It'll take effort and some degree of inconvenience."

- Daily News staff writers John Baer and Josh Cornfield

contributed to this report.


Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or benderw@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @wbender99

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