DN Editorial: Voter-ID bill paints ugly picture of democracy

Voters cast their ballots inside the Mummers Museum on Second Street during Election Day in 2010. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Voters cast their ballots inside the Mummers Museum on Second Street during Election Day in 2010. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 13, 2012

COMING SOON to a polling place near us?

In Aurora, Ohio, on March 6, an 86-year-old World War II veteran was prevented from voting at the same precinct he has lived in for 40 years: His driver's license had expired, and an ID from the Veterans' Administration wasn't acceptable under Ohio's new voter- ID law.

Stories like these are surely what's in store if a similar bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate last week - and up for a vote in the House - becomes law.

In recent months, Republican-controlled legislatures in 34 states have decided that the threat of voter-impersonation fraud is growing, even though it has been measured in Pennsylvania at 0.00002 percent, as in two hundred-thousandths of a percent, as in four voter-fraud convictions compared with 20 million votes cast since 2004.

Registration fraud is not voter fraud - dogs, dead people and movie-star mice may occasionally be slipped onto registration rolls, but they don't show up to vote. Yet Pennsylvania's law could block tens of thousands of real, live and eligible voters from exercising their rights, voters that not so coincidentally are young, poor and minority, the ones most likely to favor the Democrats . . . and cost $4.3 million to enforce. Older Pennsylvanians who have voted regularly for decades also may find themselves disenfranchised.

Not coincidentally, Pennsylvania's law is nearly identical to model legislation drafted by a conservative think tank called the American Legislative Exchange Council, making it abundantly clear that Republican legislators are taking their inspiration, if not their orders, from the national Republican establishment - not their constituents.

The Republican National Committee even has tried unsuccessfully to get out of a 1982 settlement in which it had agreed to seek court approval before posting off-duty police officers in minority precincts, among other practices that Democrats had charged were attempts at intimidation. In ruling against the RNC on Thursday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Court wondered aloud why the RNC was so anxious to be released from the settlement if it didn't hope to take action that would violate it.

Just yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department blocked Texas from enforcing its voter-ID law because Hispanics are disproportionately less likely to have state-issued identification than other voters. Texas is one of 16 mostly Southern states that, because of history of voter discrimination, must get Justice Department or court approval before making changes to its local voting laws. Pennsylvania is not one of those jurisdictions, but its voter-ID law would have a similar effect on minorities and should be challenged in court.

The threat to voting rights now isn't as obvious as when Martin Luther King led the 1965 march to push for the Voting Rights Act, but it's just as real.

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