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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Debunking the rationale behind the PA Voter ID law

Short, sweet and to the point.

Argument for the Voter ID law:
You need to show an ID in order to cash a check, so why not to vote as well?
There is NO Constitutional right to cash as check.  There is a Constitutional right to vote.  Big difference.

Argument for the Voter ID law:
You need to show an ID in order to receive Welfare benefits, so why not to vote as well?
There is NO Constitutional right to receive Welfare benefits.  There is a Constitutional right to vote.  Big difference.

Argument for the Voter ID law:
You need to show an ID in order to board an airplane, so why not to vote as well?
There is NO Constitutional right to fly on an airplane.  There is a Constitutional right to vote.  Big difference.

Argument for the Voter ID law:
Showing a photo ID is necessary to protect the integrity of the voting process.
Protection is required only when there is a threat.  For example:  if you are swimming in shark-infested waters, you need to protection from sharks.  Fair?  However, if you are swimming in the Susquehanna River, do you need protection from sharks?  Nope.  Requiring shark repellent to swim in a NEPA river is unnecessary because that threat does not exist.  Similarly, according to testimony provided by lawyers from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there is no identified threat to the integrity of the voting process in PA.  They said so, not me.  The Voter ID law is designed to provide protection from a threat that does not actually exist.

Argument for the Voter ID law:
There is evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
Number of voter fraud cases prosecuted by former Pennsylvania Attorney General (and now Governor) Tom Corbett:  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the former AG's office did not conduct a single  investigation of of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  So which is it:  was the former AG (and now governor) derelict in his duty or is it possible that there is really is no wide-spread voter fraud in PA?

Argument for the Voter ID law:
It will be easy for voters to obtain a photo ID with an expiration date if they do not already have one.
My mother, Doris Albert, is 77 years old and has not driven in a very long time.  She had a photo ID, but it was expired.  The only reason why she was able to get an updated photo ID is because she has four sons who help her with manage such things.  If she did not have  sons to assist her, it would have been very difficult to her to obtain a photo ID.

So what does this all mean?  Basically this:  the Voter ID law in Pennsylvania is a bad political stunt that, at best, offers protection from an non-existent threat.  It represents the worst of public policy.  It potentially disenfranchises the elderly, regardless of their party affiliation.  Not should it be repealed, but those responsible for encouraging this stunt should be ashamed of themselves for such cynical nonsense.


Sean said...

I spent a LOT of time in college studying the Constitution and had one nagging issue here. Throughout our history many groups were not allowed to vote; women, blacks, felons (and I'm not saying they're at ALL connected.) So the argument 'there's a Constitutional right to vote seemed to ignore these facts.

The US Constitution does not explicitly grant you the right to vote. Several amendments do outline those who can't be excluded from voting (status of property ownership, gender, age, race and abolishing poll taxes.) All the Constitution does is leave it up to the States to determine who can vote as long as they don't discriminate for the above reasons.

In many states I cannot vote if I'm a felon. I cannot vote if I haven't registered. I cannot vote (for President) if I'm a resident of Guam, or Puerto Rico.

I'll refrain from commenting on the rest of the arguments as responses for or against are almost exclusively political in nature (I will note that there's probably not one of us that hasn't heard rumors of vote fraud on the local level...'Vote early and vote often"). Absent a 'right', these arguments must be made in the public forum and likely adjusted over time.

Stephen Albert said...


Thanks for commenting.

There are, in fact, NO absolute rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of Speech? Nope (you can't yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater). Gun ownership? Nope (there are many laws that restrict gun ownership). Religion? Come on, there has to be a right to religion, right? Nope. In fact, a careful read of the U.S. Constitution will yield the fact that a state could, in theory, establish it's own "official" religion. Bottom line, I'm not arguing that there is an absolute right to vote in this country, just like there isn't an absolute right to the U.S. Constitution or in life in general.

Okay, so much for ANYTHING being an absolute right. Voting, like other rights, is an application of what is noted in the Constitution. The point is that laws should not be established to prevent its application. It's all about intent Sean: Poll Taxes are unconstitutional. Agreed? Well why are the unconstitutional? It's simple really...because the INTENT was to prevent some groups from voting. I ask you this: what was the actual, real intent of the PA Voter ID law?

Now before you answer the above, I'll ask another question: If the intent of the law was prescriptive...designed to solve a problem...what problem is it solving? Of course I've heard the axioms you noted. And of course there IS some in-person voter fraud. However, I have seen nothing (and the former AG Corbett agrees with me, by the way) that provides evidence that voter fraud was so rampant that this specific prescription is necessary.

This leaves us with a question: what is the actual intent of the law, sans evidence of voter fraud on such as scale that the prescription would negatively impact something like 700,000 Pennsylvania voters would be justified?

The answer: Nothing. This law was never intended to solve a problem. It's like developing training: the first thing you is understand that problem, then you develop the training solution. In this case, we have a solution with a governor and legislators on the back-end trying to find a problem. The problem is that there isn't a problem on the scale necessary to justify the law.

I'll finish with a few miscellaneous points:

"...political in nature" - In point of fact I am just as likely to vote for a Republican as I am a Democrat. This isn't a political argument Sean, it never was. It's an argument of INTENT. Cynical intent I will add.

Argument in my original post - The comparisons to writing a check, Welfare benefits, boarding an airplane didn't come from me...there were examples I culled from letters to the Scranton Times in favor of the PA Voter ID law.

I would support a voter ID law - I really would support such as law if it were designed to solve an actual problem. This law doesn't. If it was, you, being someone who follows the news, could list for me just one example of rampant, prosecuted voter fraud in PA. The fact is that you can't, because it simply doesn't exist.

Again, it's all about the INTENT of the law.

Sean said...

A wise professor once told me 'Politics is simply who gets what and why." Very little legislation is without the intent of helping at election time. This is no different.

The arguments that ID's will protect the process: you cite a lack of prosecution of vote fraud. Absence of legal proceedings doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You also cite a lack of a threat. The law books and public policy books are FILLED with overreactions to presumed threats. (cough*TSAfriskingkids*cough.)

I will not offer a counterargument to it being a soul-deadening experience to get your ID renewed. I have to get mine this weekend. Pray for me.

So let me pose this question: The result of this will be more people carrying legal, accurate identification. How is that bad?

Stephen Albert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen Albert said...


I enjoy your reasoned arguments. It's refreshing.

Pleasantry dispensed, you're skirting the issue: what is the intent of the law? I'm know that you, in good conscience, believe that it is to prevent fraud. It very well. The problem is that voter fraud occurs something like, well, "almost never". Here's a citation:

You can also rely on the words of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which filed a court brief stating as such; reference here:

What this says is that, again, according the Commonwealth of Pennyslvania:

• There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania;
• The parties are unaware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere;
• Respondents [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania] will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the photo ID law.

So yes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania says that voter fraud in PA basically is nonexistent, nor does the Commonwealth says it will likely occur in the next election.

If they say there is no voter fraud, then this law is a solution to what problem?

Regarding your final point, and I don't care if the following makes me sound like a right-wing fanatic, but I don't want to live in a "show me your papers" state. Soul deadening? No, but read the letter in the editor in yesterday's Scranton Times from the retired Marine. You can also call my 77 year old mom, who luckily has family to take her to PennDOT to get her new state-issued ID. Some elderly folks don't.

I'll end the debate with this final point: There already is a process to prevent voter fraud in PA. One has to register to vote at government office, you have to show up in person to vote, and you have to sign in and your signature is compared to that already on file. It seems to me that, given the lack of voter fraud (again, according the State itself) the old process was working fine. Why change it? Again, I really, truly do believe that you, in good conscience believe that this is not political and is in fact a reasonable control. I, being the cynic, believe that it actually is a veiled effort to reduce the voting population. Sadly, I have proof to my point...

Before Turzai's (PA House Republican Leader...not some lower level functionary with a big mouth) comments I was on the fence about the PA Voter ID law. Afterwards? Hell no.

Sean said...

Steve, Don't get me wrong, I do feel it's political. I don't think it will work, and I think a benefit of it will be more people will have updated, legal identification JUST BECAUSE they want to vote.

The arguments against it all assume that there's all these people who don't have ID that are going to go on out and vote. Thousands of registered voters...that could cost the Dems THOUSANDS of votes and swing the state towards Romney.

How many registered voters WITH valid ID aren't going to vote either?

It's a cynical law, but I see some benefit. Let the activist groups, senior groups and candidates who fear they may lose coordinate ID drives (granted, it's probably too late for that).

And as for a 'show me your papers' state...that's where we're going not because of the gov't but because of our distrust for one another.

Oh, one more thing...maybe the influx of people will spark some improvements in the soul-crushing process of getting your ID in the first place!

Stephen Albert said...


I have a general distrust of government...especially larger governments. This whole mess validates this distrust. The fact that a political party can pass a solve a problem that doesn't frightening. If allowed to stant, it sets a dangerous precedent that even Republicans will, one day, regret.

Now would it be ideal if all citizens had a photo ID? Sure it would, I suppose. I just don't believe that the government should be holding a right...guaranteed by both the U.S. Constitution and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's leverage to try and force people to act in that regard. This is especially true when vulnerable groups, such as senior citizens (like my Mom) are involved.

What's more, if the real need here is for all citizens to have photo ID, then Governor Corbett should have passed a law requiring all citizens to have a photo ID, PERIOD.

Does the good of this law outweigh the bad? In my opinion it does not. It's simply an exercise in political "I can therefore I do" that is expending time and resources that should be spent other places. We have bigger fish to fry in this State and in the nation Sean; wasting efforts on what amounts to political masterbation (no benefit, other than maybe someone/group feels good) is symptomatic of what's wrong these days.

- Steve