A funny thing has happened on the way to the voter-ID trial. The white people’s party has now officially confessed that its core rationale for the new Pennsylvania law was a crock.In recent months, the ruling Pennsylvania Republicans had consistently claimed that the new photo-ID requirement was enacted in order to fight the scourge of voter fraud – to thwart all the sleazy people who cast ballots by impersonating registered voters. But now the Republicans admit, in a signed court document, that there is virtually no voter fraud. Turns out, they had been lying all along.Gee. What a surprise.The voter-ID law goes on trial today in a Pennsylvania courtroom. The ACLU and other civil liberties groups, which filed the lawsuit, rightly contend that the real purpose of the law is to create bureaucratic hurdles for those voters (disproportionately non-white and lower-income) who lack government-issued photos. The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction to block the law, because it potentially disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of people – in violation of the state constitution, which broadly protects the right to vote.Anyway, here’s the fun part. On the eve of trial, the governing GOP has signed a document which stipulates the following:”There have been no investigations and prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania…The parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania…(The state) will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania…(The state) will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November in the absence of the Photo ID law.”There you have it, a signed confession. The ruling Republicans, in sync with a national GOP strategy, ginned up a phantom menace in an effort to mask their true intent. The masking never quite worked anyway, because their intent was always so obvious: The white people’s party knows full well that Mitt Romney’s prospects for victory would be greatly enhanced if people of color and lower income are kept away from the voting booth.And it just so happens, as evidenced in a new study by University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto (cited here), that roughly 13 percent of registered Pennsylvania voters do not possess a required photo ID – most notably, minorities, the poor, women, and young adults. The state Department of Transportation put the figure at 9.2 percent. Not surprisingly, the ruling state GOP, via the Secretary of State, initially put the figure at one percent.
We all know what’s going on here. The GOP wants to make the electorate look like a gated community. As the House Republican leader in Harrisburg declared last month, in a delicious off-script moment: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”At thus point, you might be wondering: Why would the state’s attorneys confess to having lied, on the eve of trial? Didn’t they just doom their own law? Not necessarily.The ruling GOP clearly believes it can win this case simply by arguing that the voter- ID law is constitutional; after all, the U.S. Supreme Court has already decreed that an Indiana voter-ID law is constitutional, despite the fact that Indiana offered no evidence of voter fraud.No, “voter fraud” was merely a useful lie served up to fool the credulous. For the ruling GOP, dumping it overboard now is no big deal. The lie served its purpose. And if democracy is damaged on the way to electoral victory, well, so what. That’s just collateral damage.Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of Florida, laments the damage. In a newspaper guest column the other day, he said that the GOP’s various voter-suppression efforts “make a mockery of the democracy we put on display every election day….Including as many Americans as possible in our electoral process is the spirit of our country. It is why we have expanded rights to women and minorities but never legislated them away….Cynical efforts at voter suppression are driven by an un-American desire to exclude as many people and silence as many voices as possible.”Crist, of course, was virtually driven out of the GOP for the crime of being insufficiently rabid. Which is why he’s now free to state the obvious, about the clear and present danger to the American spirit. Hopefully, the trial that starts today will do the same. ——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1