Karen Heller: Pennsylvania voter ID law will cut turnout, not fraud

Al Schmidt cited one voter who used two names and a 7-Eleven address.
Al Schmidt cited one voter who used two names and a 7-Eleven address.
Posted: July 22, 2012

Let us return to the tale of one Joseph Cheeseboro. Or possibly Joseph Cheeseborough. The city resident loves those machines, having voted under both names in eight elections, going so far as to cast ballots twice in the 2007 primary and the general, using a 7-Eleven on South Broad as one address.

Perhaps voting so often makes Joe parched for a Slurpee.

Last week, he was cited as the prime example of voter fraud by Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt.

Then again, Joe Cheeseboro/borough is the only known example of voter impersonation in Philadelphia.

This irregularity, along with the other findings in Schmidt's study, has been previously reported. At his news conference, Schmidt wanted to make clear - please don't read this while drinking coffee - this had nothing to do with Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, which is being challenged in Commonwealth Court this week, leaving 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania and 18 percent of Philadelphia voters without proper credentials. The law is as adored by Republicans as it is loathed by Democrats.

No, nothing whatsoever to do with the law or politics.

Let the games begin! "Philadelphia is, without question, one of our nation's most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption," said Butler County Republican State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who clearly isn't planning to spend his vacation here.

State GOP chair Rob Gleason released an e-mail blast soliciting donations based on Schmidt's report: "Are you as outraged by this as I am? Enough is enough, and we need to act now! Click to donate $15, $25, $50 or more today to help us combat voter fraud in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania." He added, "Donate today and stand up to the liberals to help us protect Pennsylvania's elections."

Secretary of State Carol Aichele, who repeatedly estimated that 99 percent of state voters would have the necessary ID to vote, returned to her party's mantra of widespread voter fraud despite, you know, much evidence. She said, "It is clear that some of the alleged crimes would have been prevented if Pennsylvania's voter ID law had been in place in previous elections."

Mind you, this is the same Aichele who remarked last August, "I've worked in polling places since 1981, and I've never seen voter fraud. I've never seen absentee-ballot fraud."

This is also the same Aichele who, during the 2008 presidential general election, came under a torrent of criticism when, as a Chester County commissioner, she helped assign Lower Oxford Township voters, many of them students at Lincoln University, to a small, inconvenient polling facility. Voters, most of them African American, waited up to seven hours in the rain to vote. A federal lawsuit charging racial discrimination was later settled in favor of the residents and students.

Make no mistake: The new voter ID law affects 758,000 voters and disproportionately targets urban residents, the elderly, African Americans, and Democrats. In the four months since the law was enacted, fewer than 2,500 state residents have obtained the necessary card to vote in November.

"We know lower voter turnout benefits the GOP," said Keesha Gaskins of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have a registration advantage of more than a million voters.

"The rush to enact voter ID legislation started 18 months ago, following the 2010 election. Laws were passed in legislatures that were overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, in fact, in all but one," Gaskins told me. "We understand political gamesmanship, campaign financing, and advertising, but we object to using it with a fundamental right and tampering with democratic ideals to advocate for laws that allow politicians to chose their voters rather than voters to choose their politicians."

The battle has been strictly partisan, while the incidence of voter fraud - the core argument supporting the laws - is negligible. "Election integrity is vital," said Brennan Center president Michael Waldman. "The problem is not requiring voter ID per se - the problem is requiring ID that many voters simply do not have."

Voters who have voted for years are no longer eligible to do so without obtaining new IDs that are not easy for everyone to acquire. "I've voted my entire life, from the time I was old enough to vote," Devon resident Bea Bookler, 94 and now using a walker, told NPR. She cast her first ballot for F.D.R. "I have an ID which says I am registered to vote in Chester County. There is no reason why I should need anything else. It's an outrage."

The new law may not be as decisive as Democrats fear or as House Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai believes. He's the one who told party officials, "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania - done." More than likely, the law will shine more attention and campaign dollars on Pennsylvania, one of the nation's swing states.

Electoral statistician Nate Silver estimates that, if Pennsylvania's law is upheld, "this will reduce turnout by about 2.4 percent as a share of registered voters," and "reduce President Obama's margin against Mitt Romney by a net of 1.2 percentage points." Obama is ahead of Romney in all current state polls. However, it's worth noting the election is not held in July.

Those Philadelphians nostalgic for City Council brawls and the control of bellicose election potentate Marge Tartaglione, take note that Schmidt's fellow commissioner, and onetime reform ally, Democratic chair Stephanie Singer, immediately responded with a long retort to his findings. "The conclusion drawn by my colleague is that the Voter Photo ID law is a panacea that will prevent or resolve irregularities of the types described. However, nowhere in the report is there conclusive evidence that the new Voter Photo ID law will help mitigate the incidences described." Singer noted, "I haven't seen my colleague raise an eyebrow of concern about the more than 180,000 registered voters without a PennDot ID. But an inconclusive story from 2007 commands two pages of his brief report."

An eyebrow of concern! Although he did raise one for Joe Cheeseboro/ough who claims to reside at a 7-Eleven on South Broad.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-3586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.

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