The People's Editorial board tackles voter ID

Posted: July 31, 2012

WE THE PEOPLE want clean and honest elections. We believe that the electoral system should be above politics and that in the ideal democracy every single citizen votes in every election and there is no fraud.

You might yawn and stop reading now, because that's all like mom and apple pie. Where's the story here? Trust us, it's a BIG story. You already know that if you are a faithful Daily News reader. In March, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law requiring us to provide PennDOT photo ID to vote. That law has since been amended to include a limited number of other types of photo ID. Supporters say the new law is needed to ensure fair elections and end fraud. Critics say it is a blatantly partisan move to minority voters, who tend to favor Democrats, in the November presidential election. Each side thinks the other is pernicious and politically motivated.

And when you have House Majority Leader Mike Turzai boasting that voter ID "is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," you know that passions are going to run high. In fact, this issue sparked the most emotional and difficult discussion we have ever had at the People's Editorial Board — and that includes discussions of guns and crime. We were split between eight critics of the new law and two ardent supporters.

Here is what we heard from the law's supporters: It doesn't matter whether or not voter impersonation, which this law is designed to eliminate, is a common problem. The law is preventative. Yes, it could help Republicans in what is expected to be a close race in November, but that is because it will get rid of the cheating by Democrats that has been going on in Philadelphia for decades. President Obama and Mayor Nutter do not want integrity in elections — they want to win at all costs. Carrying ID at all times is a sign of personal responsibility. If you don't have one, "Put on your big boy, or big girl pants and get yourself an ID."

Here is what we heard from the law's critics: We have a bad history of all kinds of corruption here in Philadelphia, but voter impersonation has never been a problem. This law discriminates against people who already have the hardest time getting to the polls. Who can take a half-day off work to get a new ID from PennDOT? The 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1870. The Voting Rights Act was passed 95 years later because politicians were still finding ways to keep African-Americans from voting. This law continues a long and disgraceful history of voter suppression.

We all know we need to strike a balance between preventing voter fraud and allowing as many people as possible to vote. Perhaps voter ID is an appropriate step, but the opponents believe there is no way this requirement can be implemented fairly in the few months prior to an election. Take time to do it right, and take the necessary supplemental measures to support all those who would have a hard time getting an ID. Sadly, your People's Editorial Board was not able to reach consensus on this point.

Regardless, the priority now is to make sure democracy is accessible to everyone. Check out the bipartisan League of Women Voters and Committee of Seventy websites for more information on how to get appropriate IDs.

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