Commentary Magazine


Democrat Ploy Fails as PA Voter ID Upheld

Democrats who have been leading a campaign against voter ID laws had their sights set on Pennsylvania, where they felt they had a good chance to have legislation passed last year thrown out by the courts. Liberal activists held rallies in Philadelphia and have been asserting that the bill approved by the Republican-controlled legislature is nothing more than a recycled “Jim Crow” law. But the attempt to trash the Keystone State’s voter ID requirement failed today when a Commonwealth Court judge in the state capital threw out the challenge. Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. issued a 70-page decision this morning in Harrisburg that stated the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that asking voters to identify themselves with a government-issued photo card would mean disenfranchisement and therefore denied an injunction that would have meant the law could not be enforced this year.

Simpson ruled that the voter ID opponents had not established that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and also made clear that trashing the law less than 90 days from the election would throw a monkey wrench into the state’s election system. While he expressed sympathy with those who said they would be prevented from voting, the voter ID law was constitutional. The decision creates a problem for state Democrats who have been counting on the courts to strike down the law and therefore absolve them from the task of seeing that their voters are legally registered and have proper identification when they go to the polls in November. Though liberals around the country have accused Pennsylvania Republicans of trying to steal the presidential election via the voter ID law, the law’s survival now puts the onus on the Democrats to mobilize their base without resorting to any of the tricks that helped the GOP pass the bill in the first place.

Mike Turzai, the Republican Majority Leader of the state’s House of Representatives, was lambasted for saying that the law would ensure that Mitt Romney would win in Pennsylvania this fall. This was taken as an indication that the GOP’s goal was voter suppression. But though the national media continues to insist that there is no such thing as voter fraud, voter ID was passed in Pennsylvania because of a widespread belief that cheating was merely business as usual in Philadelphia. The state’s largest city routinely produces big majorities for the Democrats but the fact that some election districts in the city have been known to produce result that tallied more than 100 percent of the number of registered voters fostered suspicions about how such a feat could be achieved without fraud.

The plaintiffs thought the story of 93-year-old Vivian Applewhite would sway the judge, but it didn’t work. Applewhite, who marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., is a sympathetic figure. She doesn’t have a drivers’ license and says the state has lost her birth certificate and therefore wasn’t able to get the free ID card Pennsylvania is offering non-drivers. But the state can find ways to accommodate her and other exceptional cases without trashing a law that most voters believe is mere common sense. As I wrote yesterday, it was no surprise to learn via a Washington Post poll that nearly three-quarters of Americans support voter ID laws.

The answer to worries about voter turnout is for the parties and the state to increase efforts to register voters. The “Jim Crow” canard is based on the false assumption that minorities aren’t up to dealing with the same burden of registering and obtaining an identification card as well as everyone else. The court rightly said this assertion is unproved and that the NAACP and other plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail in a full trial. The Supreme Court has already ruled that asking voters to prove their identity is both reasonable and constitutional. There were no grounds for Simpson to tell the state to return to a situation where anyone can simply show up and vote without being able to prove their identity or even their citizenship.

This means that instead of raising bogus claims of racism, Pennsylvania Democrats will have to attempt the more difficult job of seeing that their supporters are registered. It may well be that Turzai’s optimism about the Republicans chances of taking the state in November was unfounded. But if the Democrats win this time, they will have to do it by playing by the rules.