A solution in search of a problem? A modern-day poll tax? The rhetoric of the Democrats in Pennsylvania and elsewhere with regards to photo identification requirements on Election Day is absurdist. Those in favor of a requirement to show photo identification at the polls are being labeled evil Republicans seeking to suppress turnout, discriminate against the elderly, and racists. Are we tired of this yet?
However, does anyone really believe that requiring a photo id on Election Day is going to change the outcome of the election in, say, Philadelphia? Barack Obama will win Philadelphia in 2012 and fraudulent votes will still be cast, even with a photo ID requirement.
This isn’t to say I oppose the photo ID requirement; quite the contrary. I show an ID to board an airplane, return goods to certain stores, and to go to the doctor’s office. Why wouldn’t people want to take steps to eliminate any possibility of fraud at our sacred voting process? The argument that people don’t have identification strikes me as rather suspect: how can one function in society without some form of photo identification? And even if there was someone, somewhere, without one, Pennsylvania and other states have offered to provide them — for free.
The critics also contend that voter fraud doesn’t exist because there haven’t been “many” prosecutions. First of all, there have been many prosecutions. There are websites and individuals dedicated to tracking such prosecutions across the country. These stories are rarely reported, but they do exist.
Further, do the frequency of prosecutions necessarily correlate to the frequency at which crimes occur? Have you ever driven your car over the speed limit and not been caught? Because you weren’t caught, does that mean that you didn’t break the law?
Also: voter fraud prosecution is only as good as the witness who testifies and the prosecutor who prosecutes. The district attorneys in Pennsylvania are elected: isn’t it feasible that there are situations where investigating and prosecuting the fraud would not be in the self-interest of the prosecutor?
A larger problem: without proper oversight at the polls, who is there to witness, document, and testify to the fraud?
During the presidential election in 2004, 12 incarcerated felons appeared to have voted on Election Day in a polling place in Philadelphia. Was this not fraud, as it was not prosecuted?
It is possible the workers at this polling place didn’t even know the fraud was being committed. How could they, if the voter was not required to show proof of identification?
While I support the requirement to show photo identification in the polling places in Pennsylvania, the requirement won’t accomplish anything without robust enforcement. In particular, the city of Philadelphia has allowed ample opportunities to commit fraud at polling places regardless of what the laws require, because of lax oversight. There was a time when polling places were located in private homes: how much oversight can one expect in a private residence, especially if the poll worker is a friend or relative of the homeowner? While voting sites have moved away from private homes (although some remain), there are 1,687 polling sites in Philadelphia, and some of these sites are “empty corner properties,” garages, beauty salons, restaurants, hotels, warehouses, offices, barber shops, and funeral homes.
When the Help America Vote Act was established and first-time voters were required to show ID at the polls, I witnessed voters ready and willing to show their IDs (in this case photo IDs) to the poll worker who — instead of actually checking the IDs — simply waved the voters in to the room.
Pennsylvania is taking steps in the right direction, but fraud will occur absent proper oversight. Pennsylvania should take further steps to preserve the integrity of elections by establishing vote centers, making certain that voter registration lists are accurate, and by requiring bipartisan poll workers and overseers (preferably who do not live in the district) to verify that laws are being obeyed at every polling place in the state.