I have always been proud of the United States as a place of equality and opportunity. It is therefore extremely troubling to me that Pennsylvania, along with 31 other states, has recently passed voter ID laws, which have clearly discriminatory consequences because they restrict voting access, especially among the poor, minorities, and the elderly.
The PA voter ID law, which was upheld in court on Aug. 15 and is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, requires voters to show a photo ID with an expiration date to vote, without which they will not be able to vote. Before this law was enacted, voters did not have to show ID when voting; instead, they would sign a statement attesting to their identity.
As many as one million Pennsylvania residents, roughly nine percent of the state’s voting pool, do not have ID cards that comply with the law. The problem with this law is that, statistically, people who do not have one of the seven kinds of permissible IDs are disproportionately members of minority groups, the poor, and the elderly.
These laws could provide the tipping point that would hand the presidency to Mitt Romney. They also could determine the outcomes of thousands of local elections throughout the country. Across the United States, the number of voters who lack the requisite ID is greater than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School.
The partisan nature of these laws is obvious. People who are likely to be prevented from voting — the poor, the young, the elderly, and minorities — are statistically more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. Every single voter ID law that has been enacted was passed by a Republican-controlled state legislature. In PA, the law was signed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett in March after every Democratic lawmaker opposed it. In fact, the state’s Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said in June that the voter ID law will allow Romney to win in Pennsylvania.
Voter laws that are being enacted to restrict the ability of the electorate to vote and to control the outcomes of elections completely contradict every tenet and value on which this nation stands. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits placing “undue burdens” on citizens trying to vote, which was intended to prevent burdens from falling disproportionately on some groups of people over others. The federal Justice Department has stopped voter ID laws in several states because the burdens they placed on voters had a disproportionate demographic impact.
Republican legislatures that have pushed through these voter ID laws claim they are necessary to curb voter fraud. And this would be a legitimate reason to enact voter ID laws, if there actually was voter ID fraud in the U.S.
An extensive public-records search conducted by News21, a nonpartisan investigative news project, found only 10 cases of in-person voter fraud throughout the entire country since 2000, even though more than 600 million votes were cast in presidential elections alone during that time. Pennsylvania has never investigated, much less prosecuted, a case of voter fraud. During the trial in August that resulted in PA’s voter ID law being upheld, PA’s Secretary of State, Carol Aichele, admitted she did not know of a single investigation of in-person voter fraud.
Furthermore, the voter ID laws only target in-person voter fraud, which occurs when someone shows up to vote and says they are someone they are not. They do nothing to prevent other forms of voter fraud, such as corrupt election officials or absentee ballot voter fraud. This legislation is a solution looking for a problem. Rather than trying to serve the needs of every one of their constituents, it seems Republicans would prefer to squelch certain citizens’ opinions before they are even given a chance to voice them.
Laws like these serve to further divide our country and have no place in our democracy. Democracy for only some is not democracy, and as a nation we cannot afford to further disregard the voices of entire populations of citizens. These laws, enacted by desperate politicians, wrongfully aim to stop the participation of already marginalized groups, who are, ironically, the ones most in need of government aid and protection.
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