It's becoming increasingly clear that last year's Republican-backed voter identification measure in Pennsylvania disenfranchised minorities and undermined the Democratic vote.
Pennsylvania'sGOP chairman Rob Gleason told a local TV station this week that voter ID had helped to "cut [votes for] Obama by 5%" in the 2012 presidential election. His statement came just over a year after Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai admitted that voter ID efforts were intended to suppress Democratic votes, telling a Republican Steering Committee meeting that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Last year, Republican legislators in Pennsylvania tried to put in place a controversial voter ID law before the 2012 presidential election. Arguing that the proposed law would unfairly disenfranchise minority and Democratic voters, the ACLU spearheaded a high-profile legal challenge. Although the law was never enforced, misinformation about the constantly-changing voting procedure likely decreased Democratic turnout at the polls.
Pennsylvania's voter ID requirement had been banished to legal limbo until July 15, when the state Supreme Court began to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the measure.
Part of the problem, plaintiffs in the case alleged, was that the state's multimedia campaign to educate voters about the new ID law only served to confuse residents. Pennsylvania TV networks ran ads in which people holding up ID cards told voters to "show it."
Image courtesy of NPR.
“It wasn’t always clear what ‘it’ was,” said Diana Mutz, a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania and its Annenberg School for Communication, in court on Friday. The Associated Press reports that the "show it" campaign was also incorporated in radio and print ads, which also provided little guidance to voters who lacked a Pennsylvania drivers’ license or other acceptable IDs.
A lot of important questions have emerged during the course of the court's scrutiny of the law. The plaintiffs in the case also question whether the voter ID measure was actually necessary in the first place. In court, lawyers for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were forced to abandon the argument that the measure was necessary to prevent misconduct on Election Day after they couldn't point to any specific instances of voter fraud.
Studies have shown that voter fraud in the U.S. is incredibly rare. One study by the Brennan Center for Justice found a fraud rate of 0.0002% in Wisconsin during the 2004 election after the Republican National Committee Chairman claimed that Wisconsin was "absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” In most cases, a voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud at the polls.
If Pennsylvania's voter ID measure were to be declared constitutional by the court and enforced in the 2014 midterms, its impact on Democratic turnout could be enormous. Bernard Siskin, a statistician who testified this week in Pennsylvania court, said that Democrats are three times as likely as Republicans and minorities are about twice as likely as whites to lack a valid ID. All in all, he testified, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters could be disenfranchised if the law is allowed to stand.
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic.