Fraudulent Concerns | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Fraudulent Concerns

Voter ID an obvious, costly ploy

OK, sure. In the words of the Brennan Center for Justice, "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls." But don't tell that to the Harrisburg Republicans pushing a "voter ID" bill. It'll just give them more ideas ... like passing legislation requiring tinfoil hats to be properly grounded. 

As this issue goes to press, the state House appears poised to pass HB 934, which will require every voter to present a government-issued photo ID on Election Day. The measure passed the Senate last week and is almost certain to become law. Presumably, that will free Republicans up to focus on similarly urgent problems, like preventing alien abductions.  

Because oddly enough, there are very few cases of people showing up at the polls while pretending to be someone else. A five-year probe by the Bush administration's Justice Department only turned up a few dozen such improprieties nationwide — out of some 300 million votes cast. Most of the fraud allegations you've heard about — like those involving activist group ACORN — involved forged signatures on candidate petitions. Requiring photo IDs on Election Day won't prevent that.

Still, HB 934 has been championed by the Pride of Cranberry, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe. Metcalfe has called it "essential" to combating "the ever-present forces of corruption seeking to override the will of the people." 

Yes, indeed! And let's not forget the threat to our precious bodily fluids! 

Savvier Republicans, though, don't even pretend that photo IDs solve a real problem. Instead, they suggest the bill solves a problem of perception. As Republican Senate majority leader Dominic Pileggi has put it, the goal is to "significantly increase confidence in the fairness of Pennsylvania elections." And what's a few disenfranchised voters compared to that?

But since administering the ID program could cost as much as $11 million, the question is: Who diminished that confidence in the first place?

The answer is Pileggi's fellow Republicans, for whom "voter fraud" is shorthand for any election result they dislike. 

When your party is made up of folks who refer to themselves with labels like "moral majority," election losses are tough to take. For a "moral majority" to lose, their opponents must be acting immorally. Hence Republican conspiracies about the role played in 2008 by such marginal forces as ACORN, or the New Black Panther Party.

And it's not just the fringe that sees conspiracies at work. As the Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted, when President Obama beat John McCain by an 83-to-16 percent margin in Philadelphia County, state Republican Chairman Robert Gleason called the result "almost statistically impossible."

 Actually, it wasn't just possible; it was predictable. A Franklin and Marshall College poll taken two months before the election showed Obama leading McCain in Philly by 72-13, with 15 percent undecided. But then maybe to Republicans, this merely proves that Democrats somehow tinkered with poll results ... just like they snuck Obama's birth announcement into those Hawaiian newspapers.

Democrats and the state ACLU are promising a lawsuit over HB 934. Opponents argue that the bill discriminates against the elderly, the poor and minorities. Ohio's voter-ID bill, for one, cost a World War II veteran his right to vote in the March 6 primary. And the Brennan Center found that roughly one out of nine citizens lack government-issued photo IDs; for black adults, the ratio jumps to one in four. 

That black voters typically support Democrats is no secret. Neither is the fact that noted conservative activist Paul Weyrich once candidly acknowledged that "our leverage in the elections ... goes up as voting populace goes down." 

Still, a lawsuit's prospects are uncertain. The Obama administration is challenging a voter-ID law in Texas, but the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld an Indiana voter-ID bill which is the model for HB 934.

On the bright side, Indiana's bill didn't prevent Obama from winning the state in 2008 — thanks partly to a 50 percent increase in Democratic turnout in places like Indianapolis. If Democrats even come close to that enthusiasm this time, well ... Republicans will soon be grousing that photo IDs are too easy to acquire.