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.”
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.
In a new Washington Post poll, a majority in all but one of 37 demographic groups responded in the affirmative to the following question: “In your view, should voters in the United States be required to show official, government-issued photo identification — such as a driver’s license — when they cast ballots on election day, or shouldn’t they have to do this?” The sole exception among demographic groups was liberal Democrats, who gave the idea 48 percent support.
Among all adults, 74 percent supported photo ID, as did 76 percent of independents and even 60 percent of Democrats. Sixty-five percent of blacks and 64 percent of Hispanics backed requiring ID at the polls. Those who lack a high-school degree — the demographic whose members are probably the most likely not to be able to afford an ID – registered 76 percent support.
The Post also asked those surveyed if they believed the supporters and opponents of voter-ID laws were acting out of genuine concern for fair elections, or that they were trying to gain some partisan advantage. Respondents were more likely to say that the opponents of these laws had political motivations than to say that proponents did.
Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama who nominated Barack Obama for president at the 2008 Democratic convention, agrees. “A big thing that drove me to leave the Democratic party and support photo ID was the realization that the real victims of voter fraud are minority and poor people who live in places where machines block reform efforts by stealing votes,” he told me. He wrote in an op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser last year that “voting in the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally impaired to function cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of those ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.”
This week, it was announced that Davis will be a featured speaker at the GOP convention in Tampa this month. Here’s hoping he exposes the falsehood that voter ID is designed to suppress votes. Fraudulent votes shouldn’t be counted, regardless of which party they benefit.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO and a co-author of the newly released Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books).