Voter ID laws? “We call those poll taxes.” (photo: USDAgov / flickr)

What is going on with PAs voter ID law? What is the real purpose of the law? Is voter fraud really a legitimate concern?

Going through the comments on the Inky’s website (The Philadelphia Inquirer puts comment sections after most articles, the section after the Letters to the Editor is, in particular, a very popular place for on-line political comments even though all the comments are usually deleted the next day) I saw a somewhat persuasive defense of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law. The commenter, clearly acting in a similar position to the one that your humble writer holds (I act as the Minority Inspector of Elections for my polling place) declared that, as an election official, his job was to ask voters for their name, look up that name in the book printed up by election officials, the would-be voter signed underneath the name and then voted. The commenters complaint was that it was impossible to verify that the person then voting was really and truly the person that he or she claimed to be, especially as the book often used signatures that were entered in a long time ago and, to a non-handwriting expert, it appears as though a different person is signing in.

To this, all I can say is that on my second ship in the Navy, my job as Personnelman was ordinarily to work with enlisted sailors, but one day a Yeoman asked me to take a document up to the ship’s Executive Officer (Known as the XO, second in command after the CO, the Captain) have him sign it and then bring the document back to the ship’s Admin Office. The XO was clearly having a bad day as he complained that he had to sign off on documents all the time and he simply had to trust the people who were asking him to sign as he couldn’t actually go to inspect the machinery he was certifying was in good working order, couldn’t question the Petty Officer who was assuring him that she was following protocol and couldn’t personally assure himself that the officers who served below him had really run through all of the proper checklists and had really exhausted all avenues before resorting to what they were now asking him to certify was the correct procedure. I stood straight, listened sympathetically, said “Yes, sir,” and took the now-signed document back to the Admin Office. Even on a medium-size ship of just 400 sailors, it was often necessary for the people in charge to simply take their people’s word for it that they were following the correct procedures and that the weapons or the machinery they were assuring their senior people was in good working order was indeed in good working order.

Are there exceptions? Are there sailors who lie and who say they’ve inspected something when they actually haven’t? Yes, there are a few such isolated, very infrequent cases here and there. Generally, by and large, the system works and American ships make it safely to and from their destinations and they perform their missions correctly all the time. In terms of voter fraud, are there cases of voters pretending to be someone they’re not? Yes, but those such cases constitute fewer than 100 for the entire country, for the entire past decade. Voter fraud, someone who pretends to be someone they are not for the purposes of submitting an improper ballot, is a more-or-less nonexistent problem. How do we know this? Well, the G.W. Bush Administration opened up an investigation back in 2002 and concluded after five years that the problem of voter fraud was more-or-less nonexistent. Please keep in mind that during those years, Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House and the Senate, so there was little or no Democratic interference to complain of.

The Montgomery County Community College hosted an information session on the voter ID law on Thursday the 26th of July. The line of questioners went out the door. The piece reporting on that session goes over all of the ID cards currently known to be valid for voting with. The Intelligencer tells of a number of cases where voters were able to obtain valid voter IDs, but as their first case tells it, she had to jump through a number of legal hoops to do so as

Block’s birth certificate and Social Security card bear her maiden name: Joyce Lucille Altman. Her Medicare card identifies her as Joyce Block, her utility bills are in her married name, and her marriage certificate is in Hebrew.

Wow! Who would ever have thought that a single individual would have identifications in so many different formats and using so many different names? Gee, it’s almost as though this person were someone who had lived a long life under many different jurisdictions (The cited voter is 89 years old). Also, to believe that asking voters to show IDs will solve the problem of voter fraud is to ignore that, for many decades, young people have been drinking and buying cigarettes using fake IDs.

What could be the reason that Republican governors (No Democratic governors are pressing for voter ID laws) are trying to get voter ID laws into place? As the Senior Washington Correspondent of the Huffington Post puts it,

…there is ample evidence that voter ID laws inhibit voting, particularly among minorities and the poor — two major demographic segments that tend to vote Democratic.

And that’s hardly a coincidence. Consider the recent bragging by the Pennsylvania House Republican leader that his state’s voter ID bill “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
This is not simply another gratuitously partisan act by the GOP. This is an attack on the very notion of democracy.

Voting rights are under attack and the US Attorney General Eric Holder very aptly described voter ID laws as a “poll tax,” designed specifically to disenfranchise voters.

The voting blocs that support each candidate have “floors,” vote totals of which they’re not likely to go below, no matter how bad the Democratic or Republican candidate is. The Republican floor is estimated to be about 45%, meaning the Republican candidate only has to work on winning over 6% of the population in order to win. Or, what the candidate can do is to deny the Democratic side votes that should rightfully be theirs and thereby have to win over fewer undecided voters. All voters should be uncomfortable with this as the very idea of democracy is at stake. Is the winning candidate going to win because he truly represents the voters or because he’s going to carry out dirty tricks?