Opponents of voter-ID laws blasted Schmidt’s report, calling it “anecdotal” and a thinly veiled excuse to engage in voter suppression. They also reacted vigorously to Pennsylvania judge Robert Simpson’s ruling this week that the legislature was within its rights to pass a voter-ID law, though the ruling was unsurprising given that the Supreme Court, in a 6–3 vote, upheld the constitutionality of a similar Indiana law in 2008. NAACP official John Jordan nevertheless said his group was “appalled” at the judge’s ruling: “In the early 1960s it was Philadelphia, Mississippi [where votes were suppressed], and today it’s Philadelphia, Pa.” Garrett Epps of The Atlantic mourned that “powerful forces today would like to carry us back to the time when the government doled out ballots to those it approved of.” He also peddled the discredited estimate that 9 percent of the state’s population could be disenfranchised by photo-ID requirements.
As Judge Simpson noted, anyone who cannot obtain a photo ID is allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Provisional ballots will be counted if the voter can provide officials with a copy of acceptable ID within six days by mail, fax, or e-mail. If a voter is indigent and cannot afford the fee for a copy of his birth certificate, he simply needs to affirm this and his provisional ballot will be counted. “I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disfranchised” by the voter-ID law, Judge Simpson concluded. He also found no problem with the law’s provision that absentee voters must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number or driver’s license, a useful protection against fraud.
The number of people without proper ID in Pennsylvania is also not nearly as large as voter-ID critics claim. State officials testified that it was under 1 percent. That’s in line with court findings in recent ID cases and an American University analysis of three states, which found that fewer than one-half of 1 percent of people lacked ID. Critics claim that the state of Pennsylvania found that 758,000 registered voters lacked a Department of Motor Vehicles ID, but those numbers do not tell the whole story. Over l67,000 were inactive voters who hadn’t seen a polling place in at least five years. Many others may have other forms of acceptable identification ranging from passports to military IDs to government-employee IDs to cards issued by nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.
The basic problem that opponents of photo-ID laws have is that the American people reject their view that these laws are a tool of voter suppression. The American people view these laws as common sense. In a time when everyone needs ID to buy Sudafed at a drug store, purchase beer, travel by plane or even train, cash a check, enter a federal building, or apply for welfare benefits or a marriage license, showing ID at the polls doesn’t strike the average person as burdensome.