Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Senate Bill 824, as amended by House Republicans last week, would discourage many tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Those most adversely affected are low-income voters, the elderly and the disabled. This legislation makes the Pennsylvania of 2002 look more like Alabama or Mississippi of the 1950's. Many organizations including Common Cause, AARP, Philadelphia Unemployment Project and the Disability Coalition, and others, on very short notice, organized on calls to Senate offices to stop the bill from passing with the budget. (A statement by The League of Women Voters in opposition to the bill was also issued.)
The Senate, especially Senator Kukovich, very wisely decided to think about the Metcalfe amendment before returning the bill to the House or sending it to the Governor. However, it is more than possible that we will see this bill in time to affect voters in the upcoming general election. We must stop this bill permanently.
The bill requires a voter to produce a valid identification with a photo prior to voting for the vast majority of voters who do not have a current voter registration card. Acceptable ID under this bill includes:
A valid PA driver's license or PennDOT issued photo identification card;
A valid ID card issued by any other agency of the Commonwealth or another state or the US Government
A valid US passport
A valid student ID card
Or a valid US armed forces ID card
Many of us have multiple forms of the photo identification listed in this bill because of our employment status and the fact that we travel often. But let's think, for a moment, about who do not have one of the photo identifications listed in the bill. They are urban non-drivers who routinely rely on public transportation and do not have a driver's license, often for economic reasons. They are the elderly who no longer drive, and the disabled who do not drive. The other forms of photo ID listed in Senate Bill 824 are also not likely to be in the possession of people who do not have driver's licenses. Although this is changing post 9-11, employer-issued photo ID's are, by and large, issued by government or large private corporations. Many employers, if they issue them at all, only issue them to management or other high level employees. Small businesses do not as a general rule issue photo ID's , and of course, the unemployed and the retired do not have employer-issued photo ID's. Nor are these people likely to have recent passports. They are not jet-setters. Nor are they active or retired members of the military or currently enrolled in an institution of higher learning.
The unemployed or underemployed, those who work at or near the minimum wage, the elderly retired and many disabled persons are unlikely to have any of the photo identifications listed. The fact is that most people who do not have a valid driver's license, usually for economic reasons, are extremely unlikely to have any of the alternate forms of photo ID listed in the bill.
This means that most of these non-drivers will have to apply for a PennDOT non-driver photo ID, which is a several step, time-consuming process that also costs $10. A voter would have to obtain the correct form, fill it out including the section requiring a reason for needing a Non-Driver Photo ID. Since the reason is not one of the ones listed, the hopeful voter would have to check the "other" box and write the reason as "needed for voting." Mail the application with a $10 Fee. Wait for a photo card to be sent, then find transportation to a PennDOT photo center to have I.D. photo taken. Then and only then are you eligible to vote under this bill!
I won't dwell at length on the $10 fee required for this photo-ID. Clearly, such a charge for the right to vote would be considered a poll tax by the Federal Courts, and struck down. The bill presents real barriers and disincentives for voting. Many of us feel that was the real intent of this legislation. At the very least, proponents of this bill do not understand the economics realities faced by many of our constituents.
The Majority Leader last week compared identification procedures for voting to identification procedures for flying an airplane. The stringent identification procedures for flying an airplane have greatly added to the time required for airplane flights, and have thus reduced the usefulness of plane flights as a means of saving time compared to driving. Far fewer people now fly than flew before these procedures were put into effect.
But flying a plane is not a fundamental right. Voting is a fundamental right. Safeguards that reduce the number of airplane flyers are not unconstitutional, but overzealous safeguards that reduce the number of voters are unconstitutional. I have many constituents who do not drive or fly airplanes, but they do vote and have a constitutional right to do so, without interference as long as we live in a free society.
I would note that Frank J. Kelly, Attorney General for the State of Michigan, declared a voter photo identification bill, far less severe than the Metcalfe amendment, to be unconstitutional. I would hope the Senate would decide that the U.S. Constitution applies to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and would pledge not to consider this or any legislation that would interfere with the rights of senior citizens and others to vote without unnecessary inconveniences.
Only once during his term as Governor did Tom Ridge veto a Republican bill at the behest of the Democrats. That was when a bill passed unconstitutionally putting road blocks in the way of third party candidates getting on the ballot. Governor Ridge was praised by the New York Times and other national media for his veto.
I would strongly hope that Governor Schweiker would follow this precedent and veto voter photo ID if it comes to his office. The process of voting should not be one of surmounting a series of booby traps. The voting process should not be rigged to favor any party or candidate. The Republican party should compete by the normal methods of political persuasion rather than by outrageous attempts to stymie groups of voters who tend to vote Democratic.
I would also like to point out the opportunity for fraud and the real intent behind this bill. This bill allows the voter registration card to serve as acceptable identification in lieu of photo ID. The problem with this is two fold. The first is that almost no one has their original voter registration card and secondly, voter registration cards are probably the easiest forged or reproduced government document in existence. If the concern is really about election fraud, which I doubt, why are voter registration cards, which do not contain either a photo or a signature, valid ID under this bill? The purpose seems to be to harass the working poor, the disabled and the elderly, who do not have driver licenses, rather than to address any real voter fraud. An employer photo ID, which is acceptable under this bill, is probably easier to have fraudulently produced than the security system found in current law.
Remember the current law provides every polling place with a signature card that can be compared with the signature of the person attempting to vote in case of a challenge. As Barry Kauffman of Common Cause stated at a Harrisburg news conference earlier this week, we don't really have a problem of individual voters trying to vote illegally. If election fraud exists, it is because of organized efforts of one of the political parties. And I would say that that is mostly the folklore of a past time, but where election fraud may be true today, this bill does not prevent it. The real fraud being perpetrated is this organized attempt to make it difficult for some people to vote and to scare others away from the election process.



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