Fall election could have peculiar kind of ‘photo’ finish

In a close election, you’ve got two ways to win.

Coax more of your possible voters into the voting booth.

Or somehow keep the other guy’s possible voters from pulling the lever.

Pennsylvania’s Republicans know that the coming presidential election is a squeaker. And that, if their nominee wins the Keystone State, he’ll surely be drafting an inaugural address come January.

That’s why the GOP majorities in Harrisburg eagerly pushed through a new voter identification law.

At first blush, such laws – which usually require would-be voters to show photo ID, like a driver’s license – sound fair. In a nation where the principle of “one person, one vote” is supposedly sacred, scammers shouldn’t get to vote multiple times.

Thwarting vote fraud is what Republicans have stressed in advocating such laws nationwide in recent years.

Just one problem: Advocates of photo ID laws never produce reliable data on the incidence of vote fraud; they harp on anecdotes.

Basically, just as liberals will carry to their graves the belief that Al Gore was robbed in Florida in 2000, conservatives take it as an article of faith that massive Chicago vote fraud in 1960 stole the White House from Richard Nixon. So in their minds that justifies anything they might want to do to prevent a repeat, however unlikely.

So the ailment seems hyped. But the cure could have very real consequences, improperly denying a fundamental right of citizenship to many thousands. Backers of the laws tend to pooh-pooh the challenge posed by requiring photo ID.

Yet it came out last week that 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters lack the commonest form of photo ID, one from PennDOT. And, in Philly, that percentage doubles.

And, that, folks, is the real point.

Tangled up in blue

Philadelphia is a blue city, and when Democrats win statewide, it’s because they carry the city by huge margins.

A lot of those urban voters are poor or immigrants. Those the people who have the toughest time producing photo ID (they don’t drive or have passports), or the birth certificate needed to obtain it (they are many decades and miles from their place of birth).

I know that for most of us in the middle class, offering up photo ID does not seem like a big deal.  That was my take on the whole law originally.  But this is just one of the many ways in which the middle class has a very hard time getting its mind around what it’s like to be poor in America.

And this is not a new thing in America, passing laws to make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote. It’s not one of our better traditions.

GOP House leader Mike Turzai let the partisan truth slip recently when he bragged at a party event that Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law would help elect Mitt Romney. 

Democrats responded to that with a lot of blustery outrage.  There’s a lot of noise being made by Democratic lawmakers about seeking to repeal the law – but with GOP majorities in the legislature being what they are, that is no more likely this year than the Phils winning the World Series.

The Dems should spend less energy posturing about the voter ID law, and more on helping people get the needed ID.  Plenty of nonprofits are at work on that useful task, and some of the stories of elderly citizens being able to track down a long-lost proof of their existence have been inspiring.

The law faces a legal challenge. Let’s hope the state Supreme Court either stays the law until after the election, or rules quickly enough that voters have time to react.

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