Voter ID laws seek to fix problem that doesn’t exist

by Jim Longworth

Last Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson ruled that Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is legal, and can be implemented in time for the November 6 election. It was a blow to opponents of the bill who say that requiring a photo ID will suppress voting, especially among minorities, the poor, and the elderly. Meanwhile at least ten states are poised to enforce similar laws. For example, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina are keeping their fingers crossed that a three judge panel will rule in their favor within the next few weeks. Here in North Carolina, Republicans failed to override Governor Perdue’s veto of a photo ID bill, (titled the "Restore Confidence in Government Act"), but they pledge to prevail in 2013. Nationwide, GOP leaders claim that photo ID’s will prevent voter fraud which they say is rampant. But there is no credible evidence to suggest that their claims are true. In 2007, David Iglesias, the Republican U.S. Attorney for New Mexico looked into 100 claims of alleged voter fraud, but found none to have merit. Iglesias told the Albuquerque Journal, "We cannot prosecute on rumor and innuendo". Shortly thereafter, published a study by Project Vote which concluded that Iglesias’s findings were consistent with federal data which showed that only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005. But just last week, The Daily Show cited a story in the Wichita Eagle which reported that there were only, "10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000". Depending upon which report you accept, the incidence of voter fraud ranges from between one to two cases per year. That’s not exactly a rampant crime spree. So what is it that Republicans are really afraid of? What drives them to seek legislation to fix a problem that doesn’t exist? The answer may lie in a study conducted by the National Urban League earlier this year which reminded us that in 2008, Barack Obama was able to win a number of key states by narrow margins thanks to African American voters. Therefore, absent of any significant voter fraud, one can logically conclude that the GOP just doesn’t want history to repeat itself in November. And while most Republican leaders talk in racially disguised code language most of the time, some are blatant about the reason for systematic voter suppression. On June 23, Pennsylvania House Majority leader Mike Turzai appeared on YouTube saying, "Voter ID is going to allow Governor Romney to win the State". But Turzai’s comment is also indicative of the most troubling aspect of this entire Voter ID campaign.  For over 60 years, the South has been under federal scrutiny because of what used to be widespread voter suppression methods such as Poll taxes and Literacy tests. But today, it is no longer just the deep South that’s associated with putting up voting barriers to non whites. Now, states like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Indiana, and Pennsylvania are united in the far right cause in which Tea party Republicans vow to "Take Back America", and lash out against individuals and groups who aren’t "real Americans". Right wing Republicans know that requiring a government-issued photo ID is problematic for people who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25% of Blacks have no photo ID, and that compares to only 8% of Whites. But the Tea Party also knows that the groups they wish to disenfranchise not only lack ID’s, they also lack the resources to obtain them. Typically someone seeking a non driver’s license photo ID must first locate the appropriate agency in their town that issues ID’s.  Then they must find transportation to that office. And if they get that far, they are told they must have a birth certificate and two other forms of ID. If the person has the means to find out where and how to obtain a birth certificate, then they have to pay anywhere from $8 to $20 for a copy, then find a way back to the issuing agency for their photo ID.  That’s a lot to ask of someone who is elderly, disabled, poor, or under educated. But I guess those folks aren’t real Americans, so what does it matter. Whether we like it or not, Voter ID is fast becoming the law of the land and I see little chance of anyone being able to halt the juggernaut. Perhaps, though, President Obama could forestall the inevitable by issuing an Executive Order temporarily exempting hardship cases from having to obtain photo IDs. Such an order would expire in 90 days, but at least that would allow disenfranchised persons to vote in November. In the meantime, I’m going to be on the look-out for voter fraud and other widespread crimes such as theft of MRI machines, and illegal arms sales by Dominican monks. We must restore confidence in our government at all costs.