The argument in favor of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law can be summed up this way: You need photo identification to cash a check, board an airplane, secure health care, buy pharmaceuticals or alcohol, so what’s the big deal about needing one to vote? On its face, the argument is simple, commonsensical, compelling. On closer analysis, its infirmities become apparent, especially when compared with the procedures that long have been in place to prevent in-person voter fraud. One can judge whether a law is good or bad by asking whether the law addresses a critical problem and seeks to solve the problem rationally. The Pennsylvania Legislature has banned texting while driving because of the overwhelming evidence that it causes motor vehicle accidents. Similarly, the Legislature requires motorists to give bicyclists a 4-foot buffer when passing. The ostensible purpose behind Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is to prevent in-person voter fraud, which occurs when someone appears at a polling place pretending to be someone else and attempts to vote as that other person. The public record demonstrates that in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.
From January 2004 through February 2012, I served as Allegheny County solicitor. One of my more important clients was the county Elections Division, which is responsible for registering voters, maintaining voter records, training poll workers and conducting elections. One notable aspect of that representation was responding to complaints of impropriety, whether by candidates, partisans or voters.
Never in my eight years as county solicitor did anyone accuse a voter in Allegheny County of in-person voter fraud. Additionally, lawyers for the commonwealth have admitted in court that they can present no evidence of in-person voter fraud ever occurring in Pennsylvania. With or without the new voter ID law, I expect this will continue to be the case because of long-standing protections in Pennsylvania law.