Street Corner Soapbox: Voter Suppression

Category:  Street Corner Soapbox
Thursday, March 15th, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Voter Suppression by Jay Stevens
aconaway

Open Google. Search for "where do I get my PA photo ID?" You'll land on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's "Driver &Vehicle Services" page, where you'll follow the link, "visit your local driver license center." You'll reach a page that allows you to find the nearest facility where you can get a Pennsylvania photo ID. Scroll down to "Step 1," enter "Erie" into "Section B, search by county." Under "Step 2, choose the services you need," select "Photo ID." Click "Search."

Are you following along? Hopefully you are. If you're away from your computer, the rest of us are looking at the sole location in Erie county where you can get your valid Pennsylvania photo ID. It's a PennDOT photo and exam center located in the Summit Towne Center on 7200 Peach Street.

Open Google again -- and patience, people! We're almost there! Bear with me. Type in the exam center address. Search "maps." Now click, "get directions," enter your home address, and click the little bus icon -- search for directions by public transit.

Nothing. Nada. An error message. "Sorry," says Google, "we don't have transit schedule data for a trip to 7200 Peach St., Erie, PA."

That's because there isn't any public transit to 7200 Peach Street.

Now imagine you don't own a car. You're a little down on your luck, and you can't afford the payments. Not a big deal. You ride the bus to work, and there's a grocery store within walking distance. When you need to see the folks in Buffalo, you take Greyhound. It's a little inconvenient, but doable.

Unless you want to vote.

That's right. The Pennsylvania Republican party is about to pass a voter ID law for the state, which requires all voters to present a valid photo ID in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. A valid ID includes a US armed forces identification card, a Pennsylvania college or university ID card,  ID issued by a state care facility, or a state ID issued by the Department of Transportation -- available only at 7200 Peach Street.

No way to get to 7200 Peach Street? Tough luck.

It's just a few -- hundred? thousand? -- voters that are losing the right to vote, right? And it will prevent voter fraud! Our elections will be safe!

Except that voter fraud is a complete fantasy. There is no pervasive voter fraud in the United States, and there hasn't been in decades. That's right. This voter ID law is political, pure and simple. The demographic groups impacted most by this bill -- the poor, the elderly, the young -- vote predominantly Democratic.

Don't believe me? In 2007, Royal Masset, former political director of the Texas Republican party explained in an interview with the Houston Chronicle his party's pursuit of voter ID laws. "It is an 'article of religious faith [among Republicans] that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,' Masset said. He doesn't agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote." The Bush administration fired state attorneys for not pursuing voter ID cases during the 2006 election, even if there weren't any to pursue. And the Obama campaign voter registration drives bringing tens of thousands of young voters into play have been met by a myriad of states passing laws restricting people from registering other voters.

And make no mistake. The Pennsylvania voter ID law is personal. They're looking at Erie with its high poverty rate, minority population, and Democratic tendencies. First, they redistricted a Republican advantage into Erie's PA-5 seat, currently held by Republican Mike Kelly, and now they're looking to shave a couple more points off the race.

When Governor Corbett signs this bill -- and his administration asked for it -- he'll be signing off on the rights of many Erie voters for a small partisan advantage at the polls.

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