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How to Disenfranchise 1.6 Million Pennsylvanians in One Easy Step

Voter ID in Pennsylvania

I voted today.  I really like voting.  In fact, if I could vote twice, I would.  I like voting that much.

And now, as a Pennsylvanian, I feel fortunate that I can vote.  And if I didn’t drive, that could be very different.

As of March, Pennsylvania is sporting a new law that requires all Pennsylvanians to show ID to be allowed to vote.  Why, you may ask?  Well, as the Republicans that control our state will tell you, voter fraud is a very serious problem that is endangering our electoral process.  They say this despite the fact that data points to the incidence of voter fraud being as low 0.00004%.  According to the National Weather Service, you are as likely to be struck and killed by lightning.  But don’t worry, the Republicans have this problem under control.  I’m so glad, because I was worried they were spending their time trying to figure out how to keep tuition rates at state universities low or how to keep gas companies from raping and pillaging our land.  Thank God they’re focusing on more pressing matters.

This law is a solution for which there is no problem, and it’s a blatant attempt to suppress voters who typically skew democratic in how they vote.  It’s insidious and disgusting, and it’s tantamount to enacting a poll tax.  I guess I was mistaken when I thought we had, as a nation, decided a poll tax was blatantly discriminatory during the civil rights era.  And make no mistake, this new law is essentially a poll tax.  It requires all Pennsylvania residents who don’t have a driver’s license–estimated at 1.6 million Pennsylvanians (or 17% of all adults in the state)–to jump through a series of hoops to get a voter ID in time for November’s election.  (Oh, and by the way, the GOP assures us that it’s just coincidence that the November election is likely to be a close race in PA between Obama and Romney.)  Here’s what you have to do if you want to get a state issued ID.

  1. You must produce a valid birth certificate.  Photocopies don’t count.  If it’s in a different language, it doesn’t count.  If you weren’t born in a hospital and don’t have a birth certificate, you’re out of luck.  Birth certificates from the state cost $10.
  2. If your name doesn’t match the birth certificate (maybe you had the audacity to get married), you have to produce proof that your name changed.  A copy of a marriage license costs $35 in Philadelphia.
  3. You must produce a social security card.  If you’ve lost yours, you can get a replacement by offering proof of your ID (Wait.  Isn’t that what you’re trying to get here?  Nevermind, you need an ID to get an ID.) and a copy of your birth certificate.  (Oh, I see we’re back to that nonsense now.)
  4. You must show two proofs of residency.  This could be a lease agreement, utility bills, a W-2 form or tax records.  What if you just graduated from college, can’t find a job, moved back in with mom and dad and don’t pay any utilities?  Too bad.  You can bring mom or dad to vouch for you, but you still have to show one proof of residency.
  5. You must drag your ass to a PennDOT license office and have your ID picture taken.  The state has been kind enough to waive the $13.50 fee for a state-issued ID in light of this new law.  How magnanimous of the state.

So would someone like to explain to me how this isn’t a poll tax?  On WHYY’s Radio Times on Monday, a handicapped woman called in and described in excruciating detail how difficult it will be for her to be able to vote now because she doesn’t drive, she had to order her birth certificate from Vermont, her marriage license needs to come from Minnesota, and by the way, she can’t take herself to get her picture taken because she’s handicapped and can’t drive.  This is despite the fact that she lives across the street from her polling place and has never missed an election.  I would even venture to guess that the people at her polling place know who she is.  But that doesn’t really matter now.  She couldn’t possibly be who she says she is if she can’t produce an ID to prove it.  Of course, it’s just coincidence that she happens to be a Democrat.  Just like it’s a coincidence that this law disproportionately affects the poor (who usually vote Democrat) and elderly.  (In Philadelphia, 470,000 people don’t have a drivers license, equal to 40% of people 18 and older.)

The state’s bullshit machine maintains that the primary was a dry run for the November election to help iron out the kinks and get voters used to the new ID law.  But with turnout most likely being around 25%, the “dry run” was hardly representative of how things will go in November, which of course, is exactly the point.  By the time the problems with the law reach a point where viable court cases can be brought against it, the damage will already have been done.  The ACLU and NAACP have announced plans to challenge this legislation, but it’s unlikely that it’ll get resolved by November.  Isn’t that convenient?  The bottom line is that it’s an obvious power play by the Republican-controlled legislature to rig the November election in Pennsylvania.  And it’s very unlikely that Obama can win the election if he loses Pennsylvania.  Well played, GOP.  Karl Rove may be out of the White House, but his specter is clearly still alive and well in PA.

Voter ID in PennsylvaniaSo let’s pretend we’re not the GOP and think about this rationally.  In a country where we have embarrassingly low voter turnout due to apathy, these same people are actively going to seek out opportunities to go to the polls to impersonate another person, when they don’t even bother going to the polls for themselves.  Do we really think that’s going to happen?  Let’s face it–we don’t need more laws that dissuade voters from going to the polls.  And make no mistake, the voters that will be disproportionately affected will be African Americans, the poor and the elderly.  The former two categories generally vote Democrat.  But again, the GOP will have you believe that’s just coincidence.  They’re solving REAL PROBLEMS here, people.  You may still get hit by lightning and die, but hey, at least no one’s going to pretend to be you on November 6th.  I know I’ll be sleeping easier tonight.  And tomorrow, when I’m well-rested, maybe I’ll start looking around for another state to move to.

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