Opponents of voter-ID legislation are fighting such laws in over ten states, but much of their attention has recently focused on Pennsylvania. This week, a state judge refused to block a new law requiring ID at the polls and increasing security measures for absentee ballots from taking effect this November. The political stakes couldn’t be higher.
A new poll from Franklin & Marshall College shows that Barack Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney in the Keystone State has fallen to five points (47 percent to 42 percent). Obama led Romney by 48 percent to 36 percent in the last F&M poll in June. An incumbent president without majority support in a state at this point in the race is in danger of not being able to catch up. If Pennsylvania went Republican, it could decide the presidency — after all, the state hasn’t voted for the GOP at the presidential level since 1988, and it has 20 electoral votes.
In 2004, John Kerry edged out George W. Bush by only 150,000 votes out of 5.7 million cast. Kerry’s victory was built on an enormous margin in Philadelphia, where he won 81 percent of the vote, giving him an edge of 412,000 votes. Republicans have long suspected that voter fraud regularly occurs in Philadelphia. In the 1990s, a Philadelphia election that determined control of the state senate was thrown out by a federal judge because of massive fraud.
Last month, City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, issued a 27-page report on irregularities he found in a sample of Philadelphia precincts during this year’s primary. The report, which looked at only 1 percent of the city’s 1,687 districts, found cases of double voting, voter impersonation, and voting by non-citizens, as well as 23 people who were not registered to vote but nonetheless voted. Schmidt also found reports of people who were counted as voting in the wrong party’s primary.
“We did not set out to quantify the magnitude of voting irregularities that occurred, but rather to analyze them in detail,” his report stated. “Nevertheless, we identified hundreds of cases of voting irregularities [in select precincts] that warrant further investigation.”
Republicans are convinced that voter-ID laws coupled with absentee-ballot protections will cut down on fraud, and in areas like Philadelphia will lead to lower Democratic margins. The more honest among them acknowledge that the city has long been a fount of corruption, including when Republicans ran a machine that dominated it for 80 years until the 1950s. During that period, not a single Democrat was elected mayor, in part because of massive Republican-led voter fraud. All that changed after Democrats seized control of the levers of city power was that they perfected what former Democratic mayor Ed Rendell once admitted to me was “a yeasty system where the rule of law isn’t always followed.”