GOP voter-ID law could backfire

Posted: July 12, 2012

YOU CAN actually feel the impact of the state's new voter-ID law coming. I don't mean whether it's successful in fighting fraud, as Republican leaders claim, or whether it's successful in allowing Mitt Romney to win the state, as one Republican leader claims.

I mean in the sense that it's starting to look like a Republican overreach that could end up benefiting Democrats.

It's starting to jump the shark.

Thanks largely to House GOP Leader Mike Turzai saying last month that the law will help Republican Romney, we have ongoing national attention.

The Washington Post on Sunday editorialized against the law, mentioned Turzai and urged courts to halt it.

On Monday, a Boston Globe editorial singled out Turzai for "making it so clear" that the law isn't about voter integrity but about who wins elections.

The Associated Press this week reports problems in other states with provisional or temporary ballots cast by voters who forget to bring or do not have photo ID.

The report, noting that the 2000 presidential election was decided by 537 votes in Florida, said that more than 1,200 votes were tossed out in Indiana and Georgia in 2008 and hundreds more during primaries this year in those states and Tennessee.

(Pennsylvania allows for provisional or temporary ballots, too. A voter then has six calendar days to provide election officials with a valid ID.)

Add to this recently released figures showing more than 758,000 voters don't have PennDOT photo IDs — including nearly one in five Philly voters — and you start to sense fallout to come.

Never mind that the 758,000 number is not the true number since it includes nonactive voters and voters who might well have other photo ID; even if it's half that, or a third, or a quarter, it's problematic.

It's enough to sway a close election and far more than officials predicted.

So no matter the outcome of pending litigation against the law, this GOP effort to change voting requirements is and will be fervently labeled by Democrats as trying to deny President Obama a second term.

(This could have been easily avoided by having the law take effect in 2013.)

And anyone who thinks such labeling won't ascribe, fairly or not, at least some racial motive is blind to the nature of politics.

For Democrats, this law could be a turn-out-the-vote booster.

They have a case.

There's little beyond anecdotal evidence of fraud problems. The AP says a Republican National Lawyers Association report intended to support ID laws found less than one fraud case per year per state over the past decade.

As to cost of implementation, there's $1 million in the budget for "free" IDs (I guess the tooth fairy pays for these), but it certainly will cost more.

The state plans to contact the 758,939 voters without PennDOT IDs by mail this summer. There's no specific cost yet, but when I ask if it's fair to figure a 45-cent stamp for each, Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says, "That might be the fairest." That's $341,522.

PennDOT says 2,477 "free" photo IDs have been issued so far. Each costs the state $13.50. If only one-third of the 758,939 voters targeted get a "free" ID, that's $3.4 million.

State officials must believe those without IDs won't seek them, or else the $1 million allocated was a woefully underestimated shot in the dark.

The state already plans spending about $5 million in federal funds (about what's spent under the Help America Vote Act in presidential years), much of it to promote the voter-ID law.

Your tax dollars at work.

And lawsuits and inevitable appeals will eat more government resources as the law's impact, financially and politically, continues to grow.

So it could be a bumpy ride: for taxpayers and Republicans.

For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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