Exaggerating the Pennsylvania Voter ID 'Crisis'

Pennsylvania's photo voter ID ... a constitutional armageddon or much ado about so little?

The news sent shock waves throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the national political media networks. More than 700,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common, state-provided form of photo identification, meaning that more than 9 percent of the Pennsylvania's registered voters might be unable to vote in this year's Presidential election.

The claims of a voting rights armaggedon were prolific. Ten percent of registered Pennsylvanian voters would be turned away at the polls because they lacked photo ID! In Philadelphia, the numbers are supposedly TWICE as bad! The nefarious plot, born of Republican designs to defeat President Obama in November, was working to perfection! Woe is us! Democracy was D-E-A-D!!!

As you can see, I love an overabundance of exclamation points. It never really makes silly arguments any more plausible or intellectual honest; but it does gives the eyes a thrill. Best of all, it might even distract one from looking at what's behind the numbers.

So let's take a peek under the curtain.

The first statistic that jumps out is the 22 percent of the 758,000 Pennsylvania voters who are considered "inactive," meaning that they have not voted since 2007. In other words, these 170,000 Pennsylvanians have been sitting on their voting hands for at least five years. It also means - by the way - that not a single one of them bothered to vote in the 2008 Presidential election. 

Frankly, I find that 22 percent to be well on the low side. From my own experience working on the polls in Horsham Township, the number of voters who do not bother to vote in even the most important national (i.e. presidential) races is much closer to 40 percent than it is to 20 percent.

A 22 percent inactive voter rate would conversely suggest a 78 percent voter turnout, which has not been experienced in Pennsylvania since 1992 (82 percent).  In 2008, in one of the most provocative national elections in U.S. history, only 68 percent of Pennsylvania voters cast ballots. That's a 32 percent "non-vote rate." If that rate is applied to the 758,000 without Pennsylvania photo IDs, 242,000 would not be expected to vote in this year's Presidential contest.   

In addition, the gap in voter registration-to-PennDOT photo ID includes college students who lived in Pennsylvania while attending in-state colleges and universities; registered to vote during their studies here; then left the state following graduation to pursue their careers. There are roughly 590,000 college students attending over 3,200 schools in Pennsylvania.

According to a 2010 Student Retention Survey, Philadelphia enjoys a 58 percent student retention figure. Even though this would be considered a bit on the high side for the entire state, let's assume it applies. It still suggests that every four years roughly 62,000 college students leave the state (590,000/four years x 42 percent). 

Without even trying all that hard with admittedly fuzzy math, I'm able to whack that 758,000 by 40 percent (304,000). And that's without even trying to address the multitudes living in large city environs who simply have not needed a PennDOT drivers license because they rely on mass transit. 

Now let's consider that a goodly number of these mismatched Pennsylvania voters have other acceptable forms of identification: 

  • Accredited Pennsylvania colleges or universities (with photo and expiration date)
  • Pennsylvania care facilities
  • Military identification
  • Valid U.S. passports (cannot be expired)
  • Other photo identification issued by the federal or Pennsylvania government
  • Employee identification issued by the federal, Pennsylvania, or a county or municipal government

It's impossible to count those who will have the above at their disposal; but a valid assumption is they would significantly reduce the number of those left without acceptable forms of voter ID.

Finally, comes a number that illustrates why Democrats really fear the numbers being thrown around by PennDOT. That number is 2,477, or the total number of voters - according to Karen Heller's column in The Philadelphia Inquirer - who have sought photo voter IDs from PennDOT since the new voting law was passed in March 2012. That's just 620 people per month!

Is that a systemic problem, caused by inaccessible PennDOT facilities, long lines, poor transportation options, bad customer service, overly complicated documentation requirements, etc.? Or is there another reason why citizen response has been slow and not nearly adequate to address this "constitutional crisis?"

The critics would like you to believe that all the remaining individuals who haven't bothered to seek the required photo IDs, are all physically disabled, obscenely poor, or 93-year-old grandmothers born in far away southern states where racial discrimination rendered them unable to produce native state birth certificates. 

The real problem for Democrats might just be that those they count on to carry the vote in urban locales - like Philadelphia - simply won't be motivated enough by their precious constitutional right to vote to bother trying to get a valid photo ID. Excuses will abound for this. Some will be valid; others will be nothing more than excuses. You can be sure though that, if our newly minted and recently upheld Affordable Care Act required a photo ID to obtain federally subsidized health insurance, the lines outside local PennDOT offices would be long and suddenly so very easy to reach.

Certainly the truth lies somewhere in between my admittedly cynical, sometimes sarcastic analysis and the breast-beating wails of Jim Crow and poll taxes. If you were in Houston this week, you could have heard the Obama Administration's view of the voter ID controversy from none other than U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who addressed the NAACP's convention on the issue. Unfortunately you could only get inside the convention site by showing up with your government-approved photo ID!!

It's difficult to reconcile a view that requires a photo ID to cash a check, ride an airplane, visit a new doctor, sign a mortgage, or taking an opportunity to listen to the insights of the U.S. Attorney General, yet shuns the same added integrity and transparency for one of our most precious freedoms with the same level of effort.

Mike publishes selected posts from his blog at www.crankymanslawn.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Shortall Sr July 15, 2012 at 05:38 AM
Seriously, Jeff? Asking EVERYONE to show proof of identity is presuming them guilty?!? That's an overdramatization, as was "nearly impossible". Personally, I want everyone to vote. But if you can protect a financial transaction by requiring ID (Does that presume guilt also?), then you can protect the vote the same way. By the way, I always love hearing what Ed Rendell has to say, when he's not too busy being The President's attack dog.
Jeff Gemmill July 15, 2012 at 12:13 PM
Not everyone has a government-issued ID, not everyone needs one. You make it sound like everyone flies. Many people don't. I haven't been on a plane in 11-12 years, myself, and have no plans to be on one anytime soon. You don't need a government-issued ID to open a bank account, get a credit card or do many other things in life. My wife doesn't drive - we got her a photo ID two years ago. She survived fine without one many years prior - many new doctor visits in there, too. Maybe if this law had included funds for opening temporary Penndot locales in easily accessible locales (community centers, etc.) and extended the hours (the ones in Montco are 8:30 to 4:15 Mon-Sat... why no nighttime hours? No Sundays?) so ordinary people could get IDs without jumping through hoops I'd be fine with it. But it didn't because that's not the intent. The real reason was articulated by the Pa. House majority leader, a Republican, who referenced it while listing the successes of the GOP-controlled legislature: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Since this law cuts an estimated 10 percent of voters from the rolls - hey, they may well have done just that. Last - if you know anything about Rendell, then you know he's not anyone's attack dog. He's defended Romney on some things recently (to the dismay of liberals, I'm sure).
Mike Shortall Sr July 15, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Obviously, we're not going to agree here. So here's my last say. I wouldn't have had any problem with phasing in the requirements of the voter ID law, even grandfathering older voters and those with state-recognized disabilities. I would agree that Pennsylvania should do more to make the process more accessible. But you have to admit that less than 2500 IDs issued over a four month period says more about the motivations and priorities of those needing the ID than it does the difficulty of the process. I refuse to believe that so many of the hundreds of thousands supposedly affected by this are having so much difficulty complying that the numbers - even with efforts to educate, with state rep/senator offices pitching in, and grassroot efforts to provide assistance - are so monumentally low. And lastly, here's a story of Rendell's "bipartisanship": http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/16/romney-wawa-visit-diverted-by-rendell-protesters/
Gilbert R Albright Jr July 17, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Mike Shortall is an Republican ignoramus. He fails to realize how many people do NOT have a driver's license photo ID in large (Democratic) cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. A large number of the residents DO NOT own a motor vehicle and have no drivers license, because they work in the city and use public transportation. Most cannot the afford the high cost of car insurance, gas and regular vehicle maintenance and well as the fact that there very limited parking. There are thousands of people in cities that do just fine using public transportation and do not own a vehicle thus have no Photo ID. They also do not have the cash to pay for a copy of a birth certificate and will just no vote rather the pay for one. And these people DO NOT have the alternate forms of identification he mentions. They are not all students, military members, have passports, work for the federal, state or local government, so his explanations are not supported by reality. He is just "throwing stuff out there." Mike Shortall is just putting putting out propaganda to hide the obvious realty of the Republicans devious act of voter suppression.
Mike Shortall Sr July 17, 2012 at 09:16 PM
I always find it funny how so many cannot express a well developed comment or thoughtful observation without resorting to name-calling. Oh well ... So, Gilbert, perhaps you can explain that with all these hundreds of thousands of potentially disenfranchised voters, less than 3000 have sought the simplest - and FREE - form of state ID. Do you really expect us to believe that the other 750,000 are all indigent, non-driving, non-working, birth-certificateless individuals?!? And let's not forget that voter ID laws have been instituted in 26 states, going back as far as 1990. This is not something just dreamed up for this year's election. Of course there are people who will fall through the documentation cracks, and as the story of Sherry Skramstad in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, there are solutions to almost every situation. The really big problem is ... You have to make the effort ... ANY effort. The FACT that only 2700 PA ID's have been obtained in four months of this law change weighs heavily on the "can't be bothered making the effort" side of the equation.


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