By Sandra Thompson, Esq.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives early last summer passed a bill known as the “Voter Identification bill” to change the current Election Code. Before it actually becomes law, this Bill must be approved by the PA Senate, then signed by the Governor.
Legislators must consider that this bill could potentially interfere with the voting rights of minorities, students, poor, and the elderly. This Voter ID Bill is not a solution to any problem. It does not protect against, nor prevent, any actual cases of fraud. Fraud surrounding voting includes: voter harassment or intimidation, throwing out proper votes, giving out false information about when or how to vote, stuffing ballot boxes, and tampering with election forms.
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was enacted by the federal government in 2002 to make elections run smoother and to prevent cases of fraud by election officials and campaign workers.
The voter does not normally commit fraud. The problems identified with elections are already resolved by Pennsylvania’s current Election Code and by HAVA. Enforce those laws and protect the constitutional rights of registered voters.
There is a legal term called “pretext” that is defined as “a reason given to justify an act that is not the real reason for the act.” The reasons given by people who support this bill are pretext. Some supporters state their reason is: changes are necessary so that “dead people can no longer vote”.
There is NO case in Pennsylvania of a person appearing at a poll to vote in the place of a deceased registered voter. Another reason given for supporting the bill is: “illegal immigrants can no longer vote”. The current election code already provides that before a person can vote, he must be a United States citizen and a Pennsylvania resident in the district where he intends to vote for at least 30 days. Besides, it is widely known that illegal immigrants avoid any contact with officials, because they are extremely afraid of being discovered. They are not registering their names and addresses, nor are they voting.
This Voter ID Bill is said to protect against voter impersonation. How would someone impersonate another voter? To do so, he must have certain advance knowledge about the registered voter’s address, polling place, and signature. He must also know that the registered voter will not vote. Additionally, he must hope when he identifies himself as the registered voter that no one else (no pollworker or other voter) knows the actual person that he is impersonating or his crime will be discovered. Finally, he must properly forge the registered voter’s signature.
Pennsylvania’s existing election code already protects against voter impersonation. The first time you appear at an election district to vote, you must show some form of identification with your name and address, then sign a certification. Currently, acceptable identification includes a valid photo identification card issued by any state agency, school, employer, or the military. Under the current law if the voter does not have those forms of identification, then other acceptable forms of identification include a firearm permit, a utility bill, bank statement, or government check.
This Voter ID Bill removes these items as acceptable forms of identification, although they remain acceptable under HAVA. Under the current state election code, the election official must certify that he reviewed the voter’s identification, he must announce the voter’s name to all persons present at the polling place, and must verify the voter’s signature matches the record. Currently, a voter can be challenged for questionable identity.
Therefore, Legislators must also ask themselves is this bill fiscally responsible. The known cost of this Bill to Pennsylvania taxpayers is over $4.3 million dollars. This is the cost of providing free photo identifications to the 319, 661 registered voters who the state knows do not already have a PennDot photo ID. This cost is $13.50 per person. This fee cannot be charged to the voter because it would be unconstitutional as a poll tax. The uncalculated costs include the costs for free replacements, the cost of producing the new forms and certifications, costs of training election officials, and the cost of distributing the new rules to all registered voters.
The Voter ID Bill’s supporters hope they can transfer the uncalculated costs to the federal government by applying for federal funds under HAVA. They do not know if they will actually qualify for HAVA funds. Legislators must ask does this Voter ID Bill help Americans to vote.
Pass laws based on fact, not fear nor because of sensationalism. The PA House Voter ID Bill is too great a price to pay without a reason. Contact your Pennsylvania Senator now and say: “it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Do not support or consider the PA House Voter ID Bill.
York NAACP, Unit #2294–Sandra Thompson, a York attorney, is NAACP Branch President there as well.