In the ongoing controversy over Pennsylvania's move to require voter identification at the polls starting in November, a Republican leader's moment of campaign swagger has given opponents new ammunition.
State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai of Allegheny County last weekend stood before a political gathering in Hershey, ticking off victories for the Republican-run state legislature and Gov. Corbett. Voter ID, said Turzai, "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
Big surprise, said his political foes. State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) said Turzai's comments confirmed what Democrats have suspected all along: that voter ID is "part of a national effort by the Republican Party to pass laws disenfranchising large numbers of voters who tend to vote Democratic."
Turzai responded through an aide that he meant the antifraud effort would level the playing field for Romney and President Obama. That reasoning, however, suggests that GOP partisans view most election fraud as Democrat-inspired.
But election officials and experts agree voter fraud is virtually nonexistent — in Pennsylvania and across most of the nation. As such, so-called ballot-security efforts historically mounted by Republicans must be seen as the modern equivalent of the poll taxes that thwarted black voters in the Jim Crow South.
Indeed, a pending legal challenge by the League of Women Voters, the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP alleges that the rule will disenfranchise 10 voters named in the suit, who, like thousands of other voters, face a hardship in acquiring the right identification.
The law's impact isn't hard to predict: Urban residents, minorities, and the elderly are most likely to lack the right documentation since many do not drive. And they tend to lean Democratic.
Thanks to Turzai's comments, the hearings scheduled in the ACLU case, before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson in late July, take on added urgency. They also come as state elections officials scramble with efforts to loosen some ID requirements — an admission that thousands of legitimate voters face being disenfranchised by a pointless law.