Unnecessary voter-ID law a total freakin' mess

Posted: July 31, 2012

SITTING in the wood-paneled, high-ceilinged Commonwealth Court room where a circular court seal the size of a child's backyard wading pool hangs above the bench, I'm thinking, man, this voter-ID law is a total freakin' mess.

On the other hand, the relatively new $116 million Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg where the court's hearing arguments for and against the law certainly is nice.

And I think, "See, when government has a need to do something and money to do it [the center was planned before the recession], things turn out OK."

But when there's no need and no money and government tries to do something anyway, you end up with a total freakin' mess.

To be clear, I'm not talking about whether it makes sense for voters to have photo IDs. It does. Everyone should have a photo ID for all kinds of obvious reasons.

But the ill-conceived, politically driven, bureaucratically bungled effort to make that happen here and now?

A total freakin' mess.

The Republican Legislature and Gov. Corbett shoved this turkey (some say Crow) into law with a level of forethought comparable to that employed by alcohol-impaired teens with raging hormones on a clothing-optional midnight swim.

Dive in, damn the consequences.

The law was offered to protect the sanctity of every vote, to prevent fraud and to stop Philadelphia Dems from "stealing" elections.

The protect-each-vote argument is laughable because so many votes are now at risk: poor people, old people, black people, rural people, etc.

The prevent-fraud argument falls flat in front of a study by the Republican National Lawyers Association and a five-year crackdown by former President George W. Bush's Justice Department, both of which found virtually no evidence of fraud.

And if the argument is, "Oh, well, there's plenty of fraud in Philly; it's just that nobody enforces the law," then why would anyone expect a new law to be enforced?

Democrats "stealing" elections? If you're talking statewide, it isn't working.

We have a Republican governor, a Republican House and a Republican Senate.

If you're talking about the city, come on, it's all Democrats. They don't need to steal elections.

So we must be talking about "stealing" the presidency; which is why one of the few honest things said so far about this law is GOP House Leader Mike Turzai's remark that it will "allow" Mitt Romney to win the state.

Ah, but now there are issues.

After three days of court testimony (with more due this week), we learn stuff.

Nobody knows how many registered voters are without photo IDs; estimates range from 86,000 to more than 1 million and change every few days.

As do requirements for obtaining IDs.

First you needed a birth certificate with a raised seal, a Social Security card and proofs of residency such as utility bills or tax records. Now you'll be able to get an ID with proofs of residency if you know your date of birth and your Social Security number.

I guess before it's over you'll get an ID if you can fog up a handheld mirror.

We learn PennDOT driver-licensing centers (where you get IDs) don't exist in nine counties, are open only one day a week in 12 counties and only two days a week in 10 other counties. That's 31 of 67 counties. A possible deterrent?

We're told polling shows a third of the state's registered voters unaware of the new law.

If you think that unlikely given all the media attention, think about this: A Pew poll right after the Supreme Court ruled on health care showed 30 percent of the American public unaware of the court's decision.

And we learn the six days allowed to prove you exist if you show up without a photo ID and vote "provisionally" Nov. 6 is really only three days, since the days after election include Saturday, Sunday and Veterans Day, days PennDOT is closed.

Nobody knows whether voter ID is upheld, knocked down or delayed.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert "Robin" Simpson, of Nazareth (in the Lehigh Valley, not the Holy Land), is expected to rule by mid-August.

That will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, where, because one justice — Joan Orie Melvin — was suspended after being criminally charged with using staff for campaigns, there's a 3-3 Democrat/GOP split that might make for some fun.

Meanwhile, the state's spending millions to implement the law, including hundreds of thousands for mailings to 758,000 voters on a suspect list of those who might not have photo IDs.

An already-burdened PennDOT faces an influx of what are likely to be confused voters seeking IDs; and GOP leaders who preach less government and reduced spending are stuck with a program of their own making that requires more government and more spending and is, at the moment, a total freakin' mess.

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

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