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Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Typical of State’s Approach to Voter Freedom

Updated on August 24, 2012

There’s been much aversion and anger over Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID bill, but anyone familiar with the state’s lack openness regarding the voting process should not be the least bit surprised.

The state is notorious for its machinations regarding elections, from shutting out potential voters through closed primaries, to solidifying the controlling political party’s power through the gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, though the state Supreme Court threw out a recent Republican reapportionment attempt that carved up municipalities into multuple districts with no sense of rationale save for maintaining GOP strongholds.

Pennsylvanians can only hope the Voter ID law, recently upheld in Commonwealth Court and subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court, meets a similar fate.

The state is now one of eleven with such a law, and in some circumstances, it might be needed and valuable.

But not in Pennsylvania and not now.

Introduced and supported by the Republican majority and signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, the bill’s stated reasoning was to eliminate voter fraud. When pressed to document instances, even the bill’s supporters conceded no actual cases existed.

Politicians are typically motivated to pass new legislation for two reasons: first, as reaction to a crisis, but in this case, there was no evidence whatsoever of any such fraud; and second, because the controlling party sees opportunity for political gain.

There’s little doubt Republicans sought his bill as a way to disenfranchise many poor people and minorities, possibly up to 85,000 voters, most of whom would be supporters in Philadelphia and other urban areas. In fact, Republican House leader Mike Turzai could not contain his glee, virtually guaranteeing that the bill would assure a Romney victory in the state.

Given that outside of presidential elections, voter turn-out among those registered (not counting those eligible but not signed-up) drops to below 50%, and frequently plummets to 25% or lower in off-year elections, it would make sense to encourage voting by making the process easier, not more complicated.

But that’s not the case. Rather it is quite typical of Pennsylvania, which is notorious for turning the voting process into an entangled and muddled mess.

Every year, the state sets an arcane timetable, requiring that new voters register within four weeks of the election date. Formerly, new voters were limited to doing so only in a county courthouse or by mail. Only recently did the law change to allow for registration upon driver’s license renewal, or at other state offices.

However, the statute that truly exhibits Pennsylvania’s archaic election laws and inhibits the rights of many is the closed primary. Voters outside the constraints of the Republican or Democrat parties are forbidden from casting ballots every spring. Their only recourse is to charge registration—by the four-week deadline—and choose whichever of the two mainstream parties they prefer then vote on that ticket.

Considering the ineffectual performances of both parties, it’s no wonder more voters are choosing not to join them. But in Pennsylvania, independence or alignment to third parties is not only discouraged; it is shunned. Independents are effectively told every year they don't count because they aren't part of the system.

Many other states allow independents to vote in major party primaries and permit voters to cross over. But not in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our independence, where our Founding Fathers stood up to a British monarchy that repressed their rights and imposed strict regulations on everything from taxes and imports to personal liberties.

Instead, 236 years later Pennsylvania continues to enable authoritarian stances that exclude many tens of thousands of citizens from exercising a fundamental constitutional right.

The tyrannical King George would appreciate the irony—and hypocrisy.

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