Voter ID objections miss the real need

Posted: August 20, 2012

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation; a former member of the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department counsel; and coauthor (with John Fund) of "Who's Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk."

Like many states concerned over election integrity, Pennsylvania passed a commonsense election reform: voter ID. As a result, it has been targeted in an ACLU lawsuit, threatened with litigation by the Holder Justice Department, and falsely accused of trying to suppress minority voters.

Voter ID can prevent impersonation fraud, voting under false registrations, double voting by individuals registered in more than one state, and voting by illegal aliens. Much has been made of the state's admission in the ACLU lawsuit that there have been no "prosecutions of in-person voter fraud." But as an appeals court said when it upheld Indiana's voter-ID law, "without requiring a photo ID," there is almost no chance of detecting such fraud.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has seen these other types of fraud.

In the 1970s in U.S. v. Cianciulli, the Justice Department prosecuted 25 defendants for using "false addresses" to register in Philadelphia. Many of the defendants "had never lived in, and in many cases had never set foot in, the residences" where they were registered. One couple voted in both Philadelphia and New Jersey. Having to produce Pennsylvania driver's licenses with their actual address could have prevented the fraud committed in this case.

The state law requires an ID not just for in-person voting, but for absentee ballots. Pennsylvania has experienced numerous instances of absentee ballot fraud that could have been deterred by this requirement. Consider, for example, the 1998 conviction of former U.S. Rep. Austin Murphy or the 1984 conviction of Bob A. Clapps, then the Democratic chairman of Luzerne County. Voters at the U.S. v. Clapps trial testified that "they never saw, marked, or mailed the ballots."

Mayor Nutter claims the state's voter-ID law was "a bad solution looking for a problem." Apparently he has forgotten the special state Senate election of 1993. A federal judge found that absentee ballot fraud in Philadelphia had changed the outcome of that election.

Beyond doubt, then, Pennsylvania has a rich history of voting fraud. But is the new voter-ID law too strict? Not by a long shot. It's less restrictive than Indiana's voter-ID law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

Indeed, Pennsylvania lawmakers bent over backward to make it impossible for anyone to rationally claim the new law will prevent any eligible voter from voting. Anyone without a photo ID can receive one for free. And voters without an ID can cast provisional ballots, which will be counted if they mail, fax, or e-mail a copy of their ID within six days of the election.

This has not deterred opponents from claiming that the costs associated with obtaining the supporting documents needed for a free ID make this a poll tax. But numerous federal courts have said that such minimal costs are not poll taxes.

Moreover, the poll-tax argument makes no sense since the new law lets individuals cast provisional ballots - and have them counted - if they file affirmations stating that they can't afford any of the fees incurred to obtain an ID. The bottom line:

Nothing prevents any citizen of Pennsylvania from getting the ID required to vote.

Much has also been made of the state's comparison of its list of 8.2 million registered voters with its driver's license list of 8.7 million licenses issued to those 18 years of age and older. It found 758,000 registered voters without a Department of Motor Vehicles ID.

But the state did not check any other state or federal databases that contain information on other acceptable IDs such as passports, military IDs, student IDs, government employee IDs, or IDs issued by long-term care and assisted-living facilities. There was also no check of Department of Homeland Security records to find noncitizens who may be illegally registered to vote, an all-too-common problem in many states. When Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. upheld the law last week, he found the petitioners' claims of huge numbers of voters without ID as "not credible," and he threw out most of their expert testimony as biased.

In fact, the experiences of other states such as Georgia and Indiana show that voter-ID laws do not depress the turnout of any voters, much less minority voters. Turnout increased in those states after their ID laws went into effect, and it increased at a higher rate than many states without voter ID.

Every Pennsylvanian needs a photo ID to cash a check, buy a beer, check into a hotel, apply for Medicaid, or board an airplane. If you want to visit Eric Holder to talk about voter-ID laws, you need to present photo ID to get into the Justice Department building in Washington. And, if I wanted to, say, apply for a marriage license in Philly, I'd need to show a photo ID there, too, wouldn't I, Mayor Nutter?

Pennsylvania's new voter-ID law won't suppress voter turnout any more than Philadelphia's ID requirement has kept young lovers from tying the knot. But it just may help prevent the kind of fraud that has repeatedly stolen votes and elections from Pennsylvanians in the past.


E-mail Hans A. von Spakovsky at Hans.VonSpakovsky@heritage.org.

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