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August 03, 2012 10:02 AM Goosing a Ghost in PA

By Ed Kilgore

Slate’s Dave Weigel has been covering the court proceedings in Pennsylvania over that state’s new voter ID law, and his pre-ruling-wrap-up today is definitely worth reading. The bottom line is that the plaintiffs are offering substantial and tangible evidence about the hundreds of thousands of voters who may be negatively affected if the new law takes effect before November, while the State alternates between dismissing these concerns as the whining of people who will be minimally inconvenienced, and pointing to the ghostly threat of voter fraud. This passage describing the exchanges between the State’s lead attorney Patrick Cawley and the plaintiffs’ attorneys is especially illustrative:

[W]hy force so many people into the absentee system? Why bet on the provisional ballot system? Why do all of this in one election cycle, when in Georgia, voter ID was phased in over two years, with four times as many locations for obtaining the right cards?
The reason, said Cawley, was the specter of voter fraud. The day before he had made this argument to Prof. Lorraine Minnite, author of The Myth of Voter Fraud. He informed her that Heritage Foundation Fellow Hans von Spakovsky worried about fraud; she said von Spakovsky’s work was unscholarly claptrap. He wondered how widespread fraud was; she showed a chart that indicated that there were 183,344 fraud charges of any kind in fiscal year 2006. Of those, only 60 of them were charges of voter fraud.
Cawley dealt with this by dismissing it. He repeated von Spakovky’s arguments and pointed out that another expert witness, Prof. Matthew Baretto, worked with the anti-voter-ID Brennan Center and the Hispanic turnout group Latino Decisions. How to explain the low voter fraud numbers? Perhaps voter fraud didn’t make it to the top of prosecutors’ to-do lists.
“When it comes to voter fraud, there’s no blood on the sidewalk,” he said. “There are no vulnerable victims to show to a jury.”

Perhaps that’s because there is no there there in the first place.

Weigel thinks Pennsylvania’s attorneys are taking this breezy approach to the case because they believe legal precedents—especially Crawford v. Marion Board of Elections, the 2008 Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law—are strongly in their favor. So the plaintiffs have given considerable attention to distinguishing Pennsylvania’s law from Indiana’s and others:

The Supreme Court found that provisional ballots could take care of voters who lacked ID. But a Pennsylvanian who voted that way would have only six days to get a valid ID and prove his identity. In Crawford, Stevens found that “the elderly in Indiana are able to vote absentee without presenting photo identification.” In Pennsylvania, though, voters have to offer some proof that they’ve earned absentee ballots—for example, that sickness or travel prevents them from voting that day.

In the end, the decision will probably hinge on judicial assessments of the plaintiffs’ argument that the law goes far beyond any measures necessary to prevent largely theoretical voter fraud concerns. And so you have to wonder if the State’s insouciance about the impact of the law—and the facts—will fatally undermined its case. If it’s all no big deal, then why undertake this major change in election administration immediately before a major election? The best answer remains that smoking-gun admission of intent by PA GOP legislative leader Mike Turzai: “Voter ID … is going to allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • Hedda Peraz on August 03, 2012 10:23 AM:

    It has come to my attention that there a number of Registered Voters with gender suspect names.
    And I am NOT talking about a "Boy Named Sue"!
    Dale.
    Sydney.
    Jean.
    And so on- I think we need to prevent this cross gender voting, as it could lead to other, more serious abuses of the so-called "Right to Vote."
    The solution to this as yet unsubstantiated 'problem is simple: Full Frontal Nude photos on that ID!

  • c u n d gulag on August 03, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Teaparty POV:
    When will PA work to prevent Sasquatch's and space aliens from voting - that's what WE WANT TO KNOW!

    They're minorites, and liable to vote for the Democrat Party!

  • Gandalf on August 03, 2012 10:39 AM:

    There's no blood on the sidewalk? What a complete crock of shit. What the hell let's start passing laws that have anything to do with voting. Hey if your a registered republican and you decisde to vote for a democrat then we should just disenfranchise you. Blood on the sidewalk for crying out loud. Lets' start passing some sane gun laws in this country. That actually might have something to do with real blood on the sisewalk.

  • Daryl McCullough on August 03, 2012 11:17 AM:

    With all the voter suppression efforts by Republicans in recent years, the news that is making a big splash today (among my rightwing friends) is the Democrats' efforts to suppress the military vote in Ohio.

    https://www.google.com/#q=suppress+military+vote+ohio&hl=en&prmd=imvnsu&source=univ&tbm=nws&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=wuobULiiCMaD7AG69ICYBA&ved=0CAsQqAI&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=c84c5c7831b7893c&biw=1200&bih=527

    No, the Democrats are not really trying to suppress the military vote. The facts are that Ohio currently has a liberal early voting law, and are now trying to greatly restrict the availability of early voting, while making an exception for the military.

    The argument is pretty much nonsense, but it's effective with their intended audience.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 03, 2012 12:00 PM:

    Here's my pickle with the "Voter ID Laws." I wanted to mention this on the comments section of the post on the moral justification of voting that was posted earlier this week, but couldn't, due to certain technical difficulties on the website...

    The pro-ID folks say that we should be protecting the integrity of voting with safeguards like ID laws and such. We check IDs when we sell cigarettes and alcohol, don't we? So why shouldn't we check IDs for voting?

    But this is hooey-pooh. Unlike smoking, drinking, driving, or trying to get into NC-17 movie, voting is a constitutional right, not a privilege of lifestyle. We don't require people to show ID to exercise any of their other constitutional rights (not yet, at least). When you register to vote, you've already validated your eligibility and right to vote, so any administrative hindrance after the fact is automatically suspect...

  • John on August 03, 2012 12:09 PM:

    I don't understand why Crawford would come into it at all. As I understand it, the plaintiffs base their case on voting rights provisions in the Pennsylvania constitution. The fact that the PA law may be constitutional under federal law does not mean it is constitutional under PA state law

  • kitsune on August 03, 2012 2:05 PM:

    We already have voter ID. Every state has it, and so does every person. It's called a signature, it's free, and your vote isn't valid without it.

    Photo voter ID requirements are a poll tax, intended to keep some demographic groups (that normally vote Democratic) from voting, nothing more, nothing less.

  • jd--Central Florida on August 03, 2012 2:56 PM:

    I've read the Weigel piece and it was my impression that he pretty much agreed with the state's side of the case. He didn't mention that the state elections supervisor could not come up with any statistics on fraud or on the numbers of people without an ID required by law. Nor did she appear to be familiar with the details of that law.

    Weigel spoke of the plaintiffs' attorney as having a "Central Jersey accent" As a former South Jersey resident I am familiar with the South Jersey accent (similar to Philadelphia's) and with the North Jersey accent (similar to New York's)--but never heard of a Central Jersey accent. Maybe I'm being too picky but it seemed to me to be a putdown of the plaintiffs' lead attorney.

  • David Weigel on August 03, 2012 6:39 PM:

    Hey, JD! The attorney told me that he was from "central JOISEY," so I used that. :)