This week marked the opening of the trial in the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s challenge to the state’s restrictive voter ID law. The trial began with testimony from Ms. Viviette Applewhite, a feisty 93-year-old African-American great-great-grandmother who uses a wheelchair. Ms. Applewhite, who once marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., has voted in almost every election for the past 50 years and cast her first vote for president for FDR. Despite her age and limited physical mobility, Ms. Applewhite traveled two hours from Harrisburg to Philadelphia to testify as to how she may not be able to vote in this year’s presidential election because she does not have has not been able to obtain an acceptable ID under the state’s new law.
As compelling as Ms. Applewhite’s story is, equally compelling are the numbers that came out ahead of the trial. Take the number of instances of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania (the supposed reason for the law in the first place). That number? Zero. The source for that number? The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Yes, you read that correctly. The week before the trial, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania signed a stipulation attesting to, among other things, that:
• There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania;
• The parties are unaware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere;
• Respondents [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania] will not offer any evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the photo ID law.
The other key number that came out before trial? The number of registered Pennsylvania voters who are at risk of being disenfranchised because they do not have state-issued ID: more than ONE MILLION. The source for that number? Again, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On July 3, the state announced that almost 759,000 registered voters did not appear in PennDOT’s system (Penn-DOT ID is by far the most common form of ID on the list). Last week, with little fanfare, the state sent an additional 500,000 plus names to the county boards of elections. These registered voters are people who have PennDOT IDs that expired a year or more ago and are therefore invalid for voting.
So just to review– there are ZERO instances of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, yet the state is willing to disenfranchise as many as a million people or more to protect the “integrity” of the election.
Let’s recall the real motivation behind passing voter ID in Pennsylvania. If voter fraud isn’t a problem in Pennsylvania, why pass such a restrictive photo ID law that will put the votes of so many citizens in jeopardy? Perhaps State House Leader Mike Turzai said it best when listing the accomplishments of this year’s legislative session, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done.”
This is America. We don’t restrict voters’ access to the polls to ensure an election’s outcome. The more Americans participate in the electoral process, the more America flourishes as a democracy. We are in court to protect this fundamental American value and to ensure this is true not only in spirit, but in the letter of the law.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is one of four groups, including the Advancement Project, the Public Interest Center of Philadelphia, and the Washington, D.C., firm of Arnold & Porter, challenging the voter ID law.