Stealing Democracy in Pennsylvania -- One State at a Time
Patrick QuinlanAugust 16, 2012 10:42 AM
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It has been said that "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth - some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Turzai recently declared that his state’s new voter ID law “is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania.” His comments evoked conservative activist Paul Weyrich’s admission in 1980: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
What Rep. Turzai was supposed to say is: “Vote fraud is a widespread problem, and voter ID laws protect your right to vote by advancing open, fair, and honest elections.” But the evidence proves that “voter fraud” laws are a solution in search of a problem. Pennsylvania has had 13 documented cases of voter ID fraud since 1999, out of 31 million votes cast – or roughly one out of every 2.3 million votes. On the other hand, the requirement that prospective voters possess a certain type of government-issued ID could block as many as 750,000 Pennsylvanians from voting in this November’s elections.
Across the country, there is likewise no evidence of any significant problem with voter fraud. In 2002, the Justice Department kicked off a “Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative,” promising to vigorously prosecute allegations of voter fraud. Between 2002 and 2005, the federal government obtained only 26 convictions or guilty pleas for voter fraud. A 2007 Demos study concluded that “voter fraud appears to be very rare,” and a 2007 study by the Brennan Center found that “by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.” Even the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has spearheaded the national campaign against “vote fraud,” could only identify roughly 400 election fraud prosecutions across the entire country in the last decade. That amounts to less than one case per state per year. Yet, in order to fix this so-called “problem,” states are enacting laws that jeopardize the voting rights of more than five million American citizens.
Of course, passing, defending, and then enforcing voter suppression laws costs millions of dollars. One might think that fiscally conservative Republicans would blanche at such government spending. But that is where Rep. Turzai’s comments help illuminate the raw political power grab behind these laws. Requiring a special type of government ID, or limiting early voting hours, have a disproportionate impact on poor people, who tend to vote Democratic. In the last two years, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin have passed voter suppression laws. These states have two things in common: they are considered “swing states” in the upcoming Presidential election, and they have Republican state legislatures and Republican Governors.
Fortunately, in our system of government, it is judges, and not Republican politicians, who have the final word on whether a law unduly restricts the constitutional right to vote. Voting rights advocates filed suit in Pennsylvania, seeking to block implementation of the voter ID law. During the proceedings, the state's lawyers acknowledged that they are “not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania” and have no evidence to prove that “in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the photo ID law.” As Jon Stewart so aptly commented: “I rest my case, Your Honor. It doesn't happen, and this won't stop it. I think you can see why we have to do it now. Next up, leash laws for unicorns!”
Nonetheless, a Pennsylvania judge today refused to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect. He found that, based on the state’s declared intention to “fully educate the public” about the new law, and the availability of absentee and provisional ballots, there is no reason to believe that anyone will be disenfranchised. Suffice it to say that one has reason to doubt the sincerity of the state’s effort to protect all of its citizens’ fundamental right to vote. And the decision did not account for the cost of obtaining identification, the unavailability of official birth certificates for some elderly people, the difficulty for people born in distant states to track down acceptable documentation, and a myriad of other factors that will surely keep some Pennsylvania citizens out of the voting booth in November. But the petitioners will need to look to the appellate courts for relief – and quickly. The election is less than three months away. If nothing is done, Rep. Turzai and his ilk may succeed in stealing democracy from the people of Pennsylvania.
, voter suppression
, voter fraud