The state of Pennsylvania plans to disenfranchise over 750,000 voters in the upcoming November election. How is this possible? Through the new PA voter ID law, a law which requires Pennsylvania residents to show a state-issued photo ID in order to vote.
The trouble with this law is there are many PA residents who don’t have state-issued IDs. If you don’t drive, it is completely possible to go through life without an ID card. As a result, whether it’s unintentional or deliberately, the law ends up unfairly targeting certain populations of people who don’t have PA drivers’ licenses or current state IDs, such as people of low income and minorities, students, transgender individuals, and the elderly. Of course, these populations are more heavily represented in urban centers where there is a greater diversity of individuals and where many people are dependent on public transportation, such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In fact, according to the Philadelphia CityPaper, up to 43% of Philly voters may not have proper voter ID.
One may think then the solution is simple: just go and get a state ID card. However, this is not as easy as it seems. Most DMV offices are open during limited hours and many are located in the outskirts of cities and rural areas which are not accessible by public transportation. This means for those without a car (the very people who don’t already have state IDs), you first need to find someone who can drive you out to the DMV center, not an easy task for many people. Second, it will likely require taking a day off of work to go there, and since people who need state ID are likely to be of low income who work for minimum wages without benefits, such as paid vacation days, this means losing a day of work without pay, something many people are understandably not willing or able to do. The voter ID law says that new state ID is supposed to be provided to the resident for free, but I doubt they are taking this fact into account. Furthermore, many residents who go to get their expired IDs updated are reporting that they are being required to pay a fee for either obtaining their new current ID card or the documentation necessary to obtain it. This therefore amounts to a poll tax, paying a fee in order to participate in the voting process, which is unconstitutional by the 24th amendment.
In the recent state case which ruled on upholding the law, witness testimony uncovered that many DMV employees were uninformed about the law and made it difficult if not impossible for visitors to obtain free ID. It was also discovered during this same case that 9 counties in PA don’t even have a DMV office and in 13 counties the local DMV office is only open one day of the week! It became apparent that the state was in no way equipped or ready to implement this law, as it allocated funds for only 75,000 free voter ID cards to be printed, yet according to the state’s own Department of Transportation data, ten times as many voters may not possess proper ID.
One has to wonder why this law was even passed in the first place. The purpose of the law is supposed to be to prevent against voter fraud; however, in-person voter fraud is extremely rare. In fact, in one study, amongst 600 million votes cast, there were only 10 incidents of alleged in-person voter fraud. In other words, a .000000001 incidence, which is so small it’s virtually nonexistent. Furthermore, state officials admitted in the state trial filing, “There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.” Perhaps what is most revealing of the true motives of the law however is the absolutely damning video footage of GOP House Leader Mike Turzai, proudly boasting to a supportive crowd, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Regardless of how you feel about either major political party, it is extremely deceitful and unethical to generate and then use a state law to suppress people’s right to vote, a right that many communities of people, such as women and people of color, had to ardently fight and even die to obtain. This alone would be terrible enough, but to use this law to deliberately skew and rig the outcome of an election, thereby making a mockery of the whole democratic political process this country is supposed to be based on, is reprehensible.
Perhaps there is a better way to exercise our right to vote, where we can avoid the long lines and limited hours of the polling centers, evade any potential problems with voting machines and possible machine voting fraud (which is far more likely than in-person voter fraud), and render any voter ID laws irrelevant. The answer might be in a Vote By Mail (VBM) system. In this system, ballots are delivered by postal service to voters, who return them by mail to the election administrator. Oregon has been successfully using this system since 1998, and provides a great model for how a fair and accurate voting process could look. The ballots are cast in secrecy, the signatures on the ballots are verified before being counted, and opportunities for error and fraud are nearly eliminated. VBM also significantly increases voter participation and makes it easier and more convenient for those to vote, especially in local and off-year elections. It is also less expensive and saves the state money on paying poll workers, renting polling places, and buying and using voting machines. With such advantages, one has to question why we haven’t been voting this way all along.
It’s time to seriously rethink our outdated system of voting. We need to look to new models, such as the one provided by Oregon, and create a voting system that is fair, accurate, economical, efficient, convenient, and perhaps most importantly now, thug-resistant from corrupt politicians who would write and employ needless laws to control and influence our whole electoral process.