Thursday, March 24, 2011

The war on the poor continues: Photo ID to vote

The right to vote is an absolute cornerstone of our democracy. It is the most basic way in which the people have a voice in their government. So why are some state legislators trying to block access to the ballot box? Why are some legislators afraid of the voters?

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee held a public hearing on House Bills 934 and 647. HB 934 would require voters to show a government-issued, unexpired photo ID. Without it, they can't vote. HB 647 would require all registered voters to submit two photos of themselves, one of which would be kept on file at the county bureau of elections and the other which would be placed on their voter registration card. They would then have to present that card at the polls. Without it, no vote.

The written testimony submitted by the ACLU of PA is available here.

So why does the headline reference "the war on the poor"? If you didn't click and read the testimony, it's because a significant percentage of US citizens- 11 percent- do not have government-issued ID, and those without ID are disproportionately people who earn less than $35,000 annually, people over the age of 65, and people who are racial minorities. Sure, HB 934 allows free non-drivers ID cards for people without ID, but that provision is laced with the assumption that people without ID have a certain level of mobility and that they have or can acquire the necessary documents, e.g. a birth certificate, to get the free ID card.

Karen Buck from the Senior Law Center gave some great testimony that included examples of seniors whom she's worked with who would be adversely impacted. I cannot find the testimony anywhere online, but trust me, it was great.

Supporters of voter ID insist that they're trying to combat impersonation fraud. But when one member of the House State Government Committee pressed Michael Bekesha from Judicial Watch on how many people have been convicted of voter fraud in PA, Bekesha said that he was aware of one guilty plea for registration fraud, which is completely different from voter impersonation fraud. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation referenced voter fraud cases in PA from the 1920s and the 1800s.

Von Spakovsky also referenced his work at the Department of Justice, when the Bush administration prosecuted some voter fraud cases. What he failed to mention was that eight US Attorneys were fired because they told the administration that there was no evidence of voter fraud.

The evidence of voter impersonation fraud is extremely weak. Scratch that, it's non-existent.

HB 934 will certainly get a committee vote, probably sometime in April. Beyond that, it's future is unclear, but I expect this will be one of our biggest fights at the state legislature in the 2011-12 session. Please contact your state representative now and ask him or her to protect the vote by opposing HB 934. You can use our "find your legislator" tool to learn who your rep is and to get his or her contact info.

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