I’m going to have to talk about Pennsylvania’s voter ID law again because the Pennsylvania ACLU has an absolutely wonderful blog up about the trial. I have special sympathy for voting enthusiasts in Pennsylvania, because we in Ohio went through this when Republicans and lobbyists enacted a much less restrictive voter ID law.
This extremely restrictive law must have been rammed through in a big hurry, because Republicans and their lobbyists pushed it through before it was finished! Governor Corbett rubber stamped it, although we found out today he has no idea what’s in it.
The political appointee who runs elections under Governor Corbett famously stated that fewer than 1% of voters lacked the specific photo ID required to vote. That figure was off by a mile, and there’s been speculation on where that 1% number came from. Now we know:
Rebecca Oyler, of the Pennsylvania Department of State. Ms. Oyler testified about internal estimates of voters without PennDOT ID, and the related tax cost estimates supplied by the Department to the State Legislature when the voter ID law was being debated. The Department of State famously (and frequently) touted a figure of 1% of eligible voters in PA (or about 90 thousand individuals) who did not have photo ID from PennDOT. They revised that figure in June, following an internal audit, to roughly three-quarters of a million individuals – 9% of the population.
On the witness stand, Ms. Oyler testified that she herself put together the 1% figure in less than 24 hours, at the request of her superiors, relying on 2010 Census figures and statistics from an unknown source that she was told came from PennDOT. When Ms. Oyler asked PennDOT follow-up questions, including what portion of their ID database came from non-citizens, PennDOT did not reply.
Ms. Oyler also testified that, following that initial 24-hour calculation, no further effort was made to verify those numbers until after the voter ID law was passed.
Republicans, their lobbyists and Governor Corbett were so determined to put this thing in prior to the 2012 election that they neglected to define the terms used in the law. Maybe ALEC didn’t send along statutory definitions. Probably an oversight:
“substantial conformity” is the term PA’s voter ID statue applies to the similarity between a voter’s name on his or her photo ID and the name that appears on state election rolls. The legislature included no definition nor criteria for this term. Ultimately, the question of substantial conformity, and the decision as to whether two names match – say, for example “James Smith” and “Jim Smith” – will be left to those individual boards of elections, and ultimately to the individual poll workers.
Leaving such a subjective determination in the hands of so many individuals raises significant questions. Substantive differences in name are not uncommon – particularly for recently-married women. Voters whose ID is rejected would have the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot, but as they will have only six days to order and obtain a corrected ID card, the odds that their vote will be counted are slim.
A similar problem confronts the voter ID law’s provision for “indigent” voters. According to the law, voters who are “indigent” are permitted to bypass ID requirements and instead complete a special form, which must be submitted to the county board of elections to accompany their provisional ballot. Once again, however, lawmakers failed to define “indigent,” and so it is left to the county boards of elections, and ultimately to the discretion of individual poll workers, to decide who is indigent and who is not –
In short, under PA’s new laws you’re not only handing that poll worker your photo ID card – you’re also handing over unprecedented authority over whether or not you can vote. Try to smile.
When Ohio’s law went in, we had many voters show up without an ID. The Ohio law is much less restrictive than the Pennsylvania law. Ohio will accept certain “government documents” as ID. However, Ohio Republicans never bothered to define “government document.” Because I was encountering all these voters who hadn’t brought ID, and because I know they all have a vehicle registration in the car they came to the polls in (if they’re following Ohio law) I alone determined that a vehicle registration was a “government document.” It’s issued by the state, it has the voter’s name and address, and best of all, they ALL had it “with” them. I then announced this rule with great authority to my fellow poll workers, and we all followed it. I won that round that day, and now it is official practice to accept a vehicle registration as a “government document” in Ohio, as it should be, because it meets the vague requirements in the sloppy statute Republicans sketched out on a cocktail napkin.
Take what I just told you and imagine poll workers in Pennsylvania defining the word “indigent” or what constitutes “substantial conformity” during a high turn-out Presidential election. Take what I just told you and imagine poll workers who have been fed a steady diet of voter fraud hysteria by media personalities, Right wing internet celebrities and politicians and imagine THEM interpreting those terms. How’s that going to go if you’re a member of the groups targeted by these laws? Think you’ll be voting?
THAT’S how little thought Governor Corbett and Pennsylvania Republicans put into this law. That’s how little respect they have for the process that put them into power in the first place.