It's hard to disagree with the importance of assuring that people who show up on Election Day are the registered voters they claim to be. This is probably why polls show support for voter ID. The problem is, in-person voter fraud has not been a significant problem in any state. In the Pennsylvania case, Gov. Corbett and legislative leaders conceded in court that they are not aware of "any incident of in-person voter fraud."
The reason there isn't any in-person voter fraud is measures are already in place that preclude it. Voters have to sign voting forms, and election officials compare their signatures to the registered voters' signatures on record. Also, our system utilizes neighborhood polls where people tend to know one another.
A successful imposter would need voter research, basic forgery skills, and a good disguise. A person with that skills package could find better ways to affect elections.
By current estimates, tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of qualified and registered Pennsylvania voters do not have the required ID. They are mostly elderly, veterans, retired, students, disabled, the poor, and some minorities. Most have voted their entire adult lives without impersonating others or being impersonated. None have done anything to merit their exclusion from the voting booths.
Nevertheless, Corbett and other Republican leaders, now with the blessing of the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court, are insisting on immediate implementation of this unnecessary, expensive, and administratively burdensome mechanism for avoiding a problem that, by their own assessment, doesn't exist.
They say voter ID can't be delayed until after the upcoming election, when IDs may become available to all voters, and voter ID would be only unnecessary and wasteful.
The state has expedited procedures for obtaining alternative photo-IDs, but it is still proceeding slowly, complicated by post-9/11 security measures that make it harder to get IDs.
The state's efforts, which will be the focus of the new hearings, may reduce the number of legitimate voters disenfranchised significantly, or at least enough to satisfy the Supreme Court.
But make no mistake: This is an effort to disenfranchise qualified and registered voters who are mostly expected to vote for Obama. If there were any doubt, the Republican majority leader of the state House, Mike Turzai, removed it by saying how proud he is that voter ID will win Pennsylvania for Mitt Romney.
Largely lost in all this are the legal significance and requirements of the right to vote. Until recently, American constitutional law repudiated most any law that "prohibited," "interfered with," or "burdened" qualified voters from voting. This led to invalidation by the U.S. Supreme Court of measures that disenfranchised voters, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, although they were presented, like voter ID is, as means to assure the integrity of elections.
But for a few decades now, judges at all levels, who are mostly these days self-described as conservative, have chipped away at the right to vote. As a result, voter-ID is a close call in U.S. constitutional law, although Pennsylvania and some other states still strongly protect the right to vote under their state constitutions.
The conservative trend focuses on possible neutral purposes such a law might serve and validates voting regulations if they might further some "important regulatory interest." The real purpose, the actual effect, and the lack of a real problem become irrelevant. The only case in recent decades in which the right to vote was strenuously applied was Bush v. Gore.
What's most disappointing is the collapse of law and morality going on right in front of us: Gov. Corbett and the Republican leadership in Pennsylvania and other states, with aid and comfort from recent decisions by the Republican-led Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Courts, are trying to steal the presidency by depriving qualified and registered voters of their right to vote. There is a fancy legal term for that: cheating.
David Kairys, a law professor at Temple, is author of "Philadelphia Freedom, Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer."