The great Mel Brooks said that “as long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.” It’s possible that he was talking specifically about Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, allegedly passed to weed out voter impersonation at the polls. As new facts emerge the Corbett administration finds itself defending this large legislative mistake.
I warned of the numerous problems associated with voter ID in a column on March 9. I wrote at the time that the new law was an “example of legislators relying on misinformation, skirting the facts, and dismissing legitimate evidence.” They also relied exclusively on stories and anecdotes rather than legitimate facts to justify their actions. Not a shred of evidence was presented proving that Pennsylvania has a voter impersonation problem despite six legislative committee hearings and hours of floor debate in the House and Senate.
The result was an expensive mistake that will cost far more than the $11 million to $20 million anticipated by the Department of State. Making this even more ridiculous is the fact that the Commonwealth already has a process in place to make certain that the people casting ballots are who they claim to be and penalties have long been in place to punish those who are not.
A sampling of recent press reports from the Philadelphia Inquirer demonstrates why this law is causing—and will continue to cause—massive headaches for voters and election officials. These reports also indicate why immediate legislative action is needed.
- Wednesday, July 4: A review of PennDot data revealed that as many as 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania voters—almost 800,000 of them—may be at risk for having their voting rights dashed this November. Several months ago the governor’s office predicted that just one percent of the state’s voters would be affected.
- Sunday, July 15: Statistics show that certain types of voters—the elderly, immigrants, the poor, and minorities—are less likely to have the drivers’ licenses or passports needed to cast votes. Citizens of Puerto Rican heritage are especially struggling to acquire the birth certificates required to apply for a voter ID card because that territory has apparently invalidated all original birth certificates issued before July 2010.
- Thursday, July 19: Civil liberties groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the law’s implementation. They contend that the number of voters lacking proper ID is closer to 1.4 million given that some voters may have expired drivers’ licenses and may not have been included in the earlier released PennDot data.
- Friday, July 20: Increasingly dismal news coverage and the significant number of voters likely to be disenfranchised leads the Department of State in Harrisburg to create a state-issued identification card to accommodate Pennsylvanians whose voting rights may be endangered under the new rules.
- Saturday, July 21: Harrisburg removes some of the roadblocks for securing state-issued ID cards. Still, voters in need of an ID will be required to travel to a PennDot office, some of which are not easily accessible or in close proximity to many voters. The means that the elderly, homebound, or those without access to private or public transit may continue having considerable difficulties complying with the law.
The facts show that the voter ID experiment is a mistake of the highest order. It is going to gum up the process on Election Day, jeopardize voting rights, and cost the state tens of millions of dollars to both implement and defend in court. There are three viable options available, all requiring legislators to return from their summer break to take action.
Option 1—Delay the implementation of the law until next year or until some of the serious logistical and legal problems have been resolved. This is reasonable, yet unlikely to occur.
Option 2—Completely repeal the law. State Senator Daylin Leach has introduced legislation to do just that. Conceptually, I favor Leach’s plan, but it is unrealistic to believe that his bill will pass anytime soon.
Option 3—Immediately amend the law. Allow voters to show other types of valid identification to vote on November 6. The Commonwealth of Virginia recently amended their voter ID law allowing for the presentation of a voter ID card, current utility bill, bank statement, government check, employee paycheck, employer-issued photo-ID card, or Social Security card. The state is also mailing every eligible, active Virginia voter a new voter ID card that can be used on Election Day. This would not be difficult to replicate in Pennsylvania since every county already issues an “official” registration card to every registered voter.
Pennsylvania’s legislature should immediately move on option three while time remains. Although these levelheaded amendments will not negate the fact that the law is unnecessary and burdensome, they will provide additional options for citizens who are seeking to exercise their most basic, fundamental freedom. Fortunately, is not too late for Harrisburg to correct this colossal blunder.