Voter ID — A fix for something not broken

    It appears Pennsylvania is now plunging headlong toward requiring identification to vote in the commonwealth, in defiance of all common sense.

    I’ve looked and listened for a good reason to impose this burden on voting, and I can’t find one.

    But if you want to look at the “evidence” of widespread voter fraud, go this website of the National Republican Lawyers Association, which has been pushing this issue.

    They list scores of cases of alleged or proven voter fraud across the country. Most incidents involve incredibly small numbers. Many are allegations that aren’t proven. Many that are proven involve forgeries on voter registration applications that result in no stolen votes.

    For another take on voter fraud, check on the Bush administration Justice Department study which found scant evidence of a problem.

    But perhaps the most important point about the value of requiring voter ID is that it would protect only against one, very specific and quite rare form of vote fraud: impersonating a registered voter.

    All the evidence I’ve seen shows this is rare nationally, and it’s very rare in my experience covering Philadelphia elections.

    Think about it. How often would someone walk into a polling place and pretend to be a registered voter? You’d have to know the name of somebody registered, be certain poll workers from the neighborhood wouldn’t recognize that person, and also be sure that person hadn’t already voted. You do all that and risk a federal prosecution to steal one lousy vote?

    Just don’t happen much, folks.

    Maybe, you say, somebody likes ACORN submits phony voter registration applications and then sends people to polls impersonating the newly-registered voters and casting who knows how many fraudulent votes.

    First of all, the phony applications are generally weeded out, so the phantom people don’t get registered. And if one gets through, remember that it’s already the law in Pennsylvania that you have to show an ID the first time you show up at a new polling place.

    Years ago, a reporter walked into the Philadelphia board of elections with a list of dead people who had voted in a recent election – a sure fire great story.

    When elections official Bob Lee and the reporter went through all the records, they found that nearly everything on the list was a mistake of some kind, and didn’t involve stolen votes or fraud.

    By far the most common explanation was that John Jones Sr. had died since the voting roles were purged, and when John Jones Jr. showed up to vote, the election worker marked Jones Sr. in the binder, which was right next to Jones, Jr. One guy showed up, one vote was cast and counted.

    In my experience the best way to steal votes in Philadelphia (and from the clips, a lot of places) is by monkeying with absentee ballots.

    Back in 1994 a concerted and somewhat successful effort to commit absentee ballot fraud in a Philadelphia State Senate election led to a tightening of rules. Even still, you sometimes see cases where it appears someone has gone to a nursing home and aggressively assisted some residents in filling out absentee ballots.

    It’s a lot of work to steal a handful of votes, but – and this is the important point – requiring voter ID at polling places would do nothing to prevent this kind of fraud.

    I don’t like to be partisan, and I hate to say this is a Republican move to suppress poor and minority votes, but it’s hard to read this initiative any other way.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal