Exaggerating the Pennsylvania Voter ID “crisis”

Nelson Mandela expresses his views on Voter ID laws

Nelson Mandela expresses his views on Voter ID laws

The news sent shock waves throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the national political media networks.  Over 700,000 Pennsylvanians lacked the most common, state-provided form of photo identification, meaning that over 9% 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 intellectually 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 that 22% of those 758,000 Pennsylvania voters would statistically fall into the “inactive voter” category, 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 5 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% 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 presidential races is much closer to 40% than it is to 20%.  A 22% inactive voter rate would conversely suggest a 78% voter turnout, which has not been experienced in Pennsylvania since 1992 (82%).  In 2008, in one of the most provocative national elections in U.S. history, only 68% of Pennsylvania voters cast ballots.  That’s a 32% “no-vote rate”.  If that rate is applied to the 758,000 without PA 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 3200 schools in Pennsylvania.  According to a 2010 Student Retention Survey, Philadelphia enjoys a 58% 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 (590,000/4 years x 42%). 

Without even trying all that hard with admittedly fuzzy math, I’m able to whack that 758,000 by 40% (304,000).  And that’s without addressing 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 2477, 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 certain 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!!

For me, it’s incredibly difficult to reconcile a view that requires photo ID to cash a check, ride an airplane, visit a new doctor, sign for 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.

Only in America …

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