Look in your wallet. I imagine you will see a photo identification card that you need in Pennsylvania to marry, drive, travel on an airplane, ride Amtrak, enter a federal building, purchase a handgun, open a bank account, cash a check, enter Philadelphia City Hall, take the SAT, purchase cough medicine or alcohol, get your signature notarized, enter most Center City office buildings, rent a car, prove your identification to police, submit to a background check, use a credit card in most stores, start a new job, and vote in November, thanks to Pennsylvania's recently enacted voter-ID law.
Your ID card assures your participation in everyday society. If someone does not have an ID card, should we change all of our laws and policies and find some heretofore nonexistent right to avoid having ID? Or should advocacy groups work to help anyone who may not have an ID to obtain one?
Before our voter ID law, we voted on the honor system — just march into a polling place, sign a name, and you would be led right to a voting machine. In Philadelphia, a city with more than a million voters, that is a lot of honor expected for such a sacred process.
Certain groups and individuals have gone on an all-out scaremongering rampage, distorting the truth and the constitutionality of requiring identification at the polls. They compare voter ID to disgraceful times in our history when our government required poll taxes (an actual payment to vote) or forbade people of color from engaging in the same activities open to other citizens.
These opponents ludicrously claim that government cannot require you to prove your identity when you vote — because voting is a constitutionally protected right. However, opponents seem to forget that the Constitution protects marriage and your right to own a gun — both of which require photo identification. Employers cannot discriminate against you for a variety of reasons — but try getting on a company payroll without providing a valid photo identification. Interested in obtaining an abortion? You must present valid photo identification at Planned Parenthood. If requiring photo ID discriminates, then shouldn't we abolish it and drive, buy guns, get on airplanes, and open bank accounts on the honor system?
That identification card is not a billy club, a blasting water hose, tear gas, shackles, or a tax. Comparing an ID to such horrendous practices only serves to ramp up emotions and divide our citizenry. That ID protects you and other citizens. It proves you are who you claim to be.
Pennsylvania's photo-ID law is the same for everyone — every voter must prove his or her identity. Our legislature did not limit the law to only one class of citizens or people of a certain ethnicity, thus ensuring that the law applies equally to all.
The state of Indiana requires voter ID, and, after a court challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court found the law constitutional. State Rep. Darryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), the sponsor of our law, modeled it after Indiana's. Our law was based on provisions already in our election code and, most notably, does not restrict or expand the list of those who are qualified to vote. The law simply requires that all voters must prove they are indeed who they claim to be.
Opponents of the voter-ID law claim that Pennsylvania differs from Indiana and other states because our commonwealth's constitution requires "free and equal" elections. Supposedly, presenting a valid form of ID puts too much of a burden on the elderly, minorities, students, and women. The race-baiting and condescending rhetoric ignore a long line of decisions from Pennsylvania courts dating to the 19th century providing that government can impose regulations that allow qualified voters to exercise their rights while excluding unqualified voters. Additionally, the broad assumption that the elderly, minorities, students, and women do not have ID demeans and patronizes huge swaths of the population. If that many people are excluded from the everyday society that those with IDs enjoy, we should be righting that wrong, and helping those people obtain appropriate ID.
Pennsylvania accepts more and more varied forms of ID than even Indiana. Since 2002, Pennsylvania has required some form of ID the first time you vote at a new polling place. Now it requires photo ID each time you vote.
Opponents claim that voter fraud does not exist, so the law is unnecessary. However, the legislature does not need to prove fraud in order to pass a law regulating elections. And proving voter impersonation can be tricky without requiring the very ID that opponents are trying to prevent.
Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt recently released a report after examining only a tiny percentage of votes cast in the 2012 primary election. Among other irregularities, he found that one voter voted twice in the 2012 primary — once in a division where she previously lived and once in her new division — shenanigans that would be prevented by voter ID. In 2002, the Republican National Committee reported that there were almost 50,000 improper duplicate voter registrations in Pennsylvania and 53 instances of people voting twice in two different counties. Though attempts have been made to clean up duplicate registrations, no safety measures exist across state lines. So, if a voter moves from Pennsylvania and registers elsewhere, the Pennsylvania registration stays alive, creating an opportunity for duplicate votes.
Take one last look in your wallet. Be glad that you live in this commonwealth, where we find the right to vote so precious that we protect it by requiring that every voter is who he or she claims to be. Why would anyone oppose such a requirement?
E-mail Linda Kerns at Linda@lindakernslaw.com.