John Baer: Voter ID is a diversion

Posted: March 13, 2012

AS ONE WHO believes that in politics, as in life, nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems (and often not even what it seems), here are some thoughts on voter ID, which is expected to pass Wednesday and quickly get signed into law.

It is not, as Republicans assert, designed to protect and enhance democracy.

It is a spoil of victory, the result of elections lost and won, and a way to, in some measure, help the GOP in the future.

It would be refreshingly honest if Republicans such as Gov. Corbett, Senate boss Dominic Pileggi and House Majority Leader Mike Turzai simply said so.

It is, after all, a GOP initiative. There's no doubt its greatest impact is on poorer, minority and older voters, a majority of whom tend to vote for Democrats.

Among state voters 65 and older, for example, there are 160,440 more registered Democrats than Republicans, according to voter-registration data.

It is not a solution to voter-fraud problems. There's no evidence of such problems across Pennsylvania (though it's hard to imagine it doesn't happen in Philly).

If hype about statewide fraud were true, Republicans wouldn't hold the governor's office, state House and state Senate. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans here by 1,080,937.

On the other hand, it is not, as Democrats assert, the end of democracy. It won't kill Democrats or, in my view, reduce Democratic candidates' chances.

If Democrats believe otherwise, they can exert some effort to make sure their electoral base understands and complies with the law.

In fact, the good-government group Committee of Seventy on Tuesday announced a citywide effort to do just that for all city voters.

But let's look at what voter ID is.

It's a diversion from dealing with real issues. It's a new mandated government expense at a time of cuts in social services and education.

And it's an expansion of government by the party that preaches the opposite.

Predicted costs for implementation range from $4 million to $11 million, which means proponents are low-balling, opponents are exaggerating or some combination of both.

It's a money-maker for lawyers. Litigation is guaranteed. Philly Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union already promise legal challenges, and the federal government could get involved.

In other states that's been the norm.

A state judge this week ruled Wisconsin's new voter-ID law unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped in to block new voter-ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. All three states are GOP-controlled.

Somebody will pay for litigation here. You can guess who that is.

What about perception?

At a Capitol news conference Tuesday, I asked Corbett if he's concerned that many see voter ID as an effort to suppress the Democratic vote.

"No," he said, "87 percent of the people in the last poll support voter ID."

He's right. A poll taken for the progressive grass-roots group Democracy Rising PA shows that 87 percent support a law requiring state-issued ID cards.

But then 87 percent, or more, won't be affected by such a law. And the same poll also shows that 88 percent support recall elections, yet I can't imagine the Legislature or governor pushing that issue.

Corbett said he'll sign the voting bill "right away," noting that ID legislation's been around for years and debated to no end.

Again, he's right. It failed in '02. And Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed another attempt in '06. The difference now is that the Republicans hold all the power.

Asked about risks of voter suppression, Corbett said, "Frankly, I think there'll be more people coming out to vote."

Maybe so. But this measure isn't as good for Republicans or as bad for Democrats as it might seem. It's a reminder that those who win elections get to make the rules.

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