Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Is the proposed PA Voter ID Bill necessary or costly and unfair?

We see school districts struggling to make payroll; debate on privatizing liquor stores; 9 percent unemployment and empty storefronts across the state. However, the topic getting much press lately is the Pennsylvania voter identification bill.

If the proposed photo ID bill (HB 934) becomes law before the November election, it will require every Pennsylvania voter to show a current Pennsylvania license or federal government-issued ID, college photo ID or a care facility-issued ID. If the voter does not have one of these photo IDs, he/she will not be permitted to vote.

Currently, Pennsylvania voters are only required to show identification if they are voting in a polling place for the first time – and it does not require that the voter to use a photo ID. Acceptable IDs include firearms permit, a bank statement, a paycheck or a current utility bill as long as the ID has a name and address (photo not required).

You need an ID to be able to check out a book at the library. Why shouldn’t you need one at the polls? The answer is that our right to vote is constitutionally protected whereas library privileges are not. A library can charge a fee for a library card but we would cringe at the idea of a poll tax.

Supporters of the voter ID bill believe that the legislation will increase voter participation and lower the chances of electoral fraud. They suggest that voter ID is the only way to keep our elections fair and that voter identification legislation ensures ballot integrity.

However, those that oppose the voter ID bill say it unfairly targets the poor, elderly and minority voters who, more often than others, don’t have a photo ID. Critics of voter identification legislation further claim that there has been almost no evidence of rampant voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

The debate of the PA voter ID bill is fraught with racial and political implications. The debate is a divisive issue with strong partisan overtones. Opponents of voter ID legislation say that requiring a photo ID will disenfranchise certain voting groups. Since these voting groups tend to vote for Democrats, the opposition to voter ID laws tends to come from Democrats.

Democrats are wary of the motivations of the Republicans, saying that the Republicans want to take votes away from the Democrats. Conversely, the Republicans are wary of the Democrats’ motivations, saying that the Democrats are relying on voter fraud to get their votes.

My view? I see both sides of the debate.

From my pro voter ID viewpoint, I believe that requiring identification to vote sounds logical. Unless we have something to hide, what is the problem with showing an ID whenever we vote? It makes sense that requiring photo identification to vote helps ensure election integrity and protect the rights of voters.

Defending his proposed voter ID bill, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R –Butler County) states “. . . my Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act (House Bill 934) is a common-sense safeguard that will only disenfranchise integrity-deficient individuals seeking to perpetuate fraud and corruption at the polls.”

However, my opposing voter ID viewpoint does not want to see seniors, low-income citizens and minorities disproportionately impacted by the proposed voter identification legislation. Plus, there is the cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers to implement the voter ID process; especially at a time when our state (like the rest of the country) is struggling financially. According to a study by nonpartisan PA Budget and Policy Center, HB 934 will cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $11 million in the first year alone, with millions more every year after that.

Bottom line . . . I think a legitimate voter’s right to vote absolutely should not be curtailed. I also want the integrity of the voting process ensured; voter fraud should not be allowed to happen. Where does that leave me on HB 934 – seeing both sides.

Is the proposed PA Voter ID Bill necessary or costly and unfair?

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  1. Pattye, everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion on this and every other matter, but not their own facts.

    I am particularly offended by Rep. Metcalfe’s characterization of those who oppose the bill as “integrity-deficient individuals seeking to perpetuate fraud and corruption at the polls”.

    Yo, Darryl. !@#$%^&*!

    As Metcalfe well knows, the issue isn’t registering to vote, but voting. Impersonating a voter is a felony that comes with a $10,000 fine in PA. Voters already are required to present a photo ID the first time they vote or vote in a new precinct. After that their signatures are matched against the poll book’s signature on record.

    In opposing H.B. 934 in an op-ed piece, state Sen. Dylan Leach noted that 20 million votes have been cast in Pennsylvania since 2004, and there have been just FOUR convictions for voter fraud – none of which involved misrepresentation at a polling place.

    Sen. Jake Corman, the only Republican to oppose the bill in committee, said: “I wasn’t going to vote to put a roadblock before voters without any credible evidence of a problem….If someone can show me some evidence, I’m happy to consider it.”

    All available studies show that the incidence of in-person voter impersonation is extraordinarily rare.

    • Of the 9,078,728 votes cast in Ohio’s 2002 and 2004 general elections, a total of four were deemed as ineligible or “fraudulent” and found by the Board of Elections and County Prosecutors to have merit and pursued legal action. With no evidence of any of the four convictions being preventable by a photo ID law.

    • Between October 2002 and September 2005, the Department of Justice (under Geroge W. Bush) brought just 38 cases nationally, and of those, 14 ended in dismissals or acquittals, 11 in guilty pleas, and 13 in convictions, with only one conviction potentially being preventable by imposition of photo ID laws.

    • Analysis of 2004 Washington gubernatorial election revealed 6 cases of possible double voting and 19 cases of alleged voting in the name of deceased individuals out of a total 2,812,675 ballots cast; the rate of ineligible voting that thus might have been remedied by ID requirements was 0.0009%

    • In a comprehensive survey of election fraud, Professor Lorraine Minnite and David Callahan conducted a review of news and legal databases and interviewed attorneys general and secretaries of state in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, collectively representing about half of the national electorate. The study found that voter fraud of any kind is “very rare,” is not more than a “minor problem” and “rarely affects election outcomes.” Notably absent from the study are ANY confirmed cases of in-person impersonation fraud.

    Where did I get these numbers?

    Original source: The Myth of Voter Fraud by Cornell professor Lorraine Minnite

    My point? If the incidence of voter impersonation (the only kind of fraud affected by imposing a voter ID law) is rare, why impose a law that will present an unnecessary barrier to an estimated 700,000 currently registered voters?

    Unless it isn’t about the integrity of the voteat all, but politics?

    1. Kate,

      Your numbers are interesting but I also look at it another way: in 2006 a state house campaign in west Chester was decided by 26 votes (less on election night). Last year the BoS race here in trendy from by 2 to 3. While I am NOT suggesting anything like voter fraud occurred, I think we can all agree knowing that every vote cast is a legitimate vote in instances like these is vital

      1. How many people do you *honestly* believe risk $10K files and/or jail time in order to cast a vote by impersonation? And don’t forget, the Bush administration whipped their US Attorneys to beat the bushes (no pun intended) and find and charge people with votor fraud, for years. They were so over-the-top focused on it that it led to scandals over firing Attorneys who didn’t make it a big enough focus. And how many “impersonation” frauds did all that focus turn up in the entire US over multiple years: 25 cases, 13 convictions, only one of which *might* have been prevented by an ID law.

        It’d be hugely more effective to simply pay people to vote your way (also illegal, but you can get more than one vote). Except in the most local of races (BoS), races close enough for a vote or two to effect the outcome are almost non-existent. And how would you know it’d be close enough to risk the very serious fines/jail?

        If it was *your* grandmother who’s sharp but lives in a nursing home who didn’t end up able to vote (after voting regularly for 70 years), what would you say? Or your daughter who lives in the city and doesn’t have a license because she has no car? If passed, those scenarios (and a bunch of others) will happen, and these citizens who’ve done nothing wrong will be disenfranchised.

  2. Great analysis Kate. We certainly don’t want to spend millions of dollars on something that is not needed.

  3. Pattye,

    As I understand it the legislation includes providing a free government ID for any who need to prevent the poor, elderly, etc from having an issue.

    As for $11 million, that seems far fetched when u consider poll workers already check you in, have you sign and compare the signature to the book. How can adding a simple glance at an ID add that much cost?

    1. The $11m probably includes the costs of those “free” ids, among other things (retraining, printing new manuals, signage, etc, etc).

      And free ids will not magically mean every person without an ID will have on on November whateverth. They take time to get, and more importantly they take being able and motivated to go to a Driver’s License center, sit through LONG lines and have one made. Many working poor living in cities or towns may not be easily be able to get there (think – they don’t have driver’s licenses). They need to get driven there, and they and the driver may need to take a day off work just to do this – and for the working poor that might mean real hardship.

      And seniors with limited mobility would have similar problems.

      “the poor, elderly, etc” will still have issues even with availability of “free” ids. They aren’t “free” to those people, except in terms of government fees.

    1. Interesting . So the head of DMC in SC can see enough to state there were up to 900 fraudulent votes but there wasn’t enough there to prosecute? Sounds awfully suspicious.

      Voter ID laws are a total waste of tax payers money that address a problem that is non-existent. Why is it that some in the GOP are so dead set on preventing people from voting? Kudos for Senator Corman for his sensible approach.

  4. Chicago is home to this kind of legend….Kennedy supposedly beat Nixon because of Texas and Illinois dead people voting. I’m not concerned unless the $11M is accurate…a bigger cure than the disease warrants.

    Isn’t it alleged that these ID programs are designed to scare off people who are not here legally or may be out on warrants or deadbeat dads etc….just a way to scare people from voting.

  5. Even though the ID’s will be free, people will have to show birth certificates and other documents to prove their identities – these cost money if you don’t already have them and add another layer of bureaucracy to the process.

    Also, according to the link above, the $11 million is the cost of providing the ID’s for free, including equipment, staff, voter education and voter notification (the majority of the cost), along with lost revenue to PennDot when people opt for just the free voter ID card rather than pay for a driver’s license.

    Wonder if the citizen journalists in South Carolina are going to have to pay a $10,000 fine for impersonating a voter?

    1. They were in NH and if I recall correctly there were something like 3 or 4 cases of voter fraud in the past 10 years or so – Stephen Colbert did a funny bit on that.

  6. I am an Inspector of Elections in M-6. There are several safeguards that can catch the rare case of attempted impersonation. First of all, we check the signature of each voter against the poll book. Also, a surprisingly large number of the voters are personally known by at least one of the members of the Election Board (generally one Judge of Election, two inspectors–one of each party, at least two clerks–at least one from each party). Also, the parties and the candidates provide poll-watchers who can challenge any voter prior to their signing in. As previously noted in the blog, anyone new to the precinct must provide specified forms of ID; the poll book indicates which ones. Here, too, we must compare the signature with the one printed in the poll book.

    I suppose that, with the collusion of all the members of the staff, fraudulent voters could slip by, but it’s hard to imagine the circumstance, especially with the staff being made up of members from both parties.

    While I can’t read the minds of the proponents of the legislation, I also can’t help noticing the preponderance of Republicans in this group and imagine that, in the face of multiple studies showing that the actual number of frauds is vanishingly small, there is some motivation beyond trying to right a wrong. It’s an awfully big pile driver to crush an awfully small gnat.

    1. Gene, As someone inside the voting process as an Inspector of Elections, I appreciate your comments. Understanding the process and the controls that are in place, does make voter fraud appear less likely.

      BTW, a little late in my best wishes — but congratulations on your wedding

  7. Almost all of the “dead” people who voted in S.C. were found to be alive. When dates were verified, some had died after voting. Other cases turned out to be errors on the part of poll workers or election board record keeping. It seems S.C. has a particularly bad record in this regard.

    But here is link for the required non-driver’s ID , which must be obtained at a DMV location – of which there are not exactly a “plethora” across the state.

    Note that applicants must produce:

    -a social security card (cannot be laminated) AND
    -an official copy of a birth certificate

    PLUS two of the following to prove residency:
    – a lease or mortgage document with your name and current address on it
    – a W-2 with your current address
    – one of your tax returns with your current address on it
    – a current utility bill (but a cellphone bill is not accepted)

    If you can’t think of a young adult, senior, or person who moves around a lot or lives with another adult (who pays the bills) and cannot produce all the required documents, you’re kidding yourself. Getting a government-issued ID has gotten harder since states toughened requirements after 9/11/2001.

    Voting is a basic constitutionally protected right not equivalent to getting on a plane or buying alcohol or even cashing a check. Most of us take voting for granted and could produce the documents required because they are safely filed at home. But this isn’t the case for an estimated 21 million registered voters nationally and 700,000 in PA – enough to change election outcomes.

    Changing a law that will suppress a significant percentage of the vote in the absence of clear evidence of fraud is wrong. It’s that simple.

    FTW: Re the 26 vote margin in Barbara McIlvaine-Smith’s 2006 election, are you suggesting that there could have been 26 voter impersonators in that district that day – when the rate of this kind of fraud has never even come close to that number in the entire state? Get real.

    1. Kate — you are dead on. The thing we are ignoring in the discussion (which I must have posted concurrent to your post) is that this is a strategy to affect turnout. Wanting ID is a way to reduce it — and abandoning ID is a way to increase it — possibly with fraud. So we can be afraid of both sides…and I am.

  8. I lived in Texas and fraud would have been simple — though I assume the process has been tightened over time. There you were not registered by party, and you had a voter card with your signature on it, and when you voted in a primary, it was stamped as to which primary you voted in (to prevent voting twice). It was an elementary school, but unlike our little niche here in TE, few of those working at the polls knew more than a handful of voters. ((Our turnout is so low I imagine that contributes to knowing people? Only the regulars come?) I think the potential for fraud is proportional to the likelihood it will happen….and therefore the need (or lack thereof) to addiitional legislation to protect the process.
    Here’s the deal — Democrats are more likely to be in the demographic that will be hesitant to get the credentials, right? Isn’t that what poll taxes were about way back? I’m not answering…I’m asking. The topic we are ignoring is that this is an effort to reduce voter turnout…which typically favors Rs, who are in the minority of registrations.
    THen again, getting kids to vote in school is a way to improve voter turnout (encourages Mom and Dad to vote too) , which favors Ds….and is typically an NEA type program. Games people play.
    Stephen Colbert is more in tune with any of this….and is showing us too clearly how badly the election laws have damaged the process.

  9. I’m just wondering if it is good policy for every citizen to get or have some kind of picture ID. My mom doesn’t drive anymore, so we got her a non drivers picture ID in the state she is living in. So if those out there say it is not important, even considering those honest American folks who have voted for 70 years, how do we secure the integrity of our voting system in these changing times?

    In a time when so many rely on government from cradle to grave, maybe its time for famillies to help their aged relatives, go to them and help them get proper voting ID. I mean, they get medicare, medicaid and social security. These folks must have gotten out one way or another in the past.

    In as much as Republicans MAY want suppressed voter turnout, and Dems MAY want unsuppresed turnout, I would like to remove the politics here and just think this may make good sense.

    Has anyone ever been turned away in TE because in te anyway, their signature didn’t match? Is TE a good example?

  10. Flyersfan has said, “In as much as Republicans MAY want suppressed voter turnout, and Dems MAY want unsuppresed turnout,,,,”

    I would suggest that it is in the interest of our entire country to increase voter participation altogether.

    Throughout each election day, as I sit at the registration table, I’m appalled at turnouts way under 100%, when in other countries people even risk their lives to come out and vote.

    Turnout should not be a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s a citizenship issue. We know that in particular jurisdictions, turnout can affect election results. Nonetheless, anything that has the effect of suppressing turnout is contrary to the principles of our nation.

  11. Ed I agree. But trying to maximize turnout is not antithetical to maximizing accuracy. In TE, I just sign and match my signature on file. I would not be insulted to show some picture ID as well.

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