More FYI on Voter ID

The controversy over a state GOP proposal requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote in every election continues to grow as the Corbett administration pushes the plan and the state Senate prepares to debate a House-passed version.

Montco Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach notes that an Inky op-ed piece by the state's top elections official, Department of State Secretary Carol Aichele, last week says 99 percent of eligible voters already have government ID's.

Leach, a strong opponent of the proposed requirement, says Aichele's stat is based on PennDOT's count of issued driver's licenses compared to eligible voters.

But Leach's chief of staff, Zachary Hoover, points out that PennDOT doesn't back up the stat with a time frame and therefore lacks specifics on the numbers of people with mulitple licenses, those who have moved or died or who hold PA licenses but vote in other states.

Leach also says that, when questioned about the stat, a department spokesman downgraded the figure from 99 percent to "a vast majority." Says Leach, a "`vast majority' can mean 65 percent."

The issue is important because Republicans across the nation are pushing for stricter voting rules (currently, PA voters need only show an ID the first time they vote) and Democrats charge the push is aimed at voters less likely to hold photo IDs, especially urban elderly, poor and students, a.k.a., likely Democratic voters.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News weighed in with an editorial today noting 320,000 state voters (roughly the population of Pittsburgh) don't have driver's licenses and that while state-to-state voter rules vary, only six other states are as restrictive as the PA plan.

Also, while the Corbett administration says PennDOT will issue a free photo ID to those who need one (at a cost to taxpayers of $1 million), the Patriot notes that getting one requires showing up with a Social Security card and three forms of identification.

At a minimum, this plan makes it tougher for many to make themselves eligible to exercise their right to vote.

(The Corbett administration often notes that Georgia's stricter voting rules had no impact in 2008 when the African-American vote increased 5 percent. But I'm thinking, just maybe, that increase had something to do with the chance to vote for the first African-American president.)

The cost of this program also is arguable. The state House Appropriations Committee says it would cost $4.3 million, not $1 million; the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center says $11 million.

There are many questions here. Is voter fraud a real problem? Are stricter rules just a political ploy? Since photo ID is needed for so many things, why shouldn't it be needed to vote? What's the real cost of the program? And is it worth that cost? The Senate debate should air them all.