Must head off an election debacle

JOHN OVERMYER
JOHN OVERMYER
Posted: July 09, 2012

Pennsylvania will have an election crisis on its hands if almost one in 10 legal voters aren't allowed to cast ballots in November because of the state's new requirement that they show specific forms of identification at the polls.

Yet that's exactly where the state is headed, according to data released last week by Harrisburg election officials.

The disclosure that more than 758,000 registered voters — or 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voters — lack photo ID cards from the state Transportation Department shows the new law could disenfranchise voters on a massive scale.

So, there's no longer any doubt as to the right course for the appellate courts set to hear a challenge this month: Voter ID must be tossed out, just as the federal courts outlawed Jim Crow-era poll taxes designed to bar African Americans from the polls.

The suit before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson involves 10 legitimate voters, backed by rights activists and the League of Women Voters, who say the voters cannot obtain the right documents and therefore will be disenfranchised.

It's now clear that thousands of others will be in the same predicament without speedy intervention by Simpson and, ultimately, the state Supreme Court.

While the voter-ID rules have been sold as an antifraud measure, it would take actual fraud on an unheard-of scale to equal the impact of Gov. Corbett's law.

In Philadelphia, the mandate may cut an even wider swath. Democrats long predicted as much, since so many poor, elderly, and other city residents don't have driver's licenses. But the latest figures show a shocking 18 percent of city voters don't have a PennDot ID.

What GOP strategist wouldn't relish the prospect of knocking out the ballots of nearly 200,000 voters in the state's biggest Democratic stronghold? No wonder House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) recently bragged that the Republican-run legislature and Corbett's voter-ID law "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win" the state.

It's particularly telling that the new estimate differs wildly from Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele's earlier claim that 99 percent of state voters had the right papers. It was never acceptable to risk disenfranchising thousands of voters, and it's out of the question given the larger estimates.

What a treacherous irony it would be if the presidential election was stolen — not by virtually nonexistent voter fraud — but as a result of voter ID being allowed to stand.

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