Ten states have strict laws requiring voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Supporters of Voter ID laws say they protect against fraud, while critics say these laws suppress the votes of minorities and the poor. There are myriad reasons to oppose the intent, design, and effect of these laws. Voter ID laws accomplish nothing beyond making it harder for eligible citizens to vote.
For starters, our country does not have a voter fraud problem. In 2011, the Republican National Lawyers Association listed 400 voter fraud prosecutions over the last decade. That works out to less than one case per state per year. A five-year investigation by the Bush Department of Justice found virtually no evidence of voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, the state government concedes there has not been any voter fraud in the state. None.
So why do we need these laws? Because Republican lawmakers see them as a way to depress turnout among African-Americans, Hispanics, and lower-income voters who traditionally lean Democratic. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai recently bragged that his state’s Voter ID law “will enable Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” He may be right. States with Voter ID laws account for 127 Electoral College votes, nearly half of the 270 needed for the Presidency. In a close election, Voter ID laws could well determine who ends up in the White House.
Some people point out that we need a photo ID for all sorts of things. In April, Republican Senator Marco Rubio noted that we need identification to board a plane, or to rent sports equipment. “What’s the big deal?” he wondered about obtaining photo ID to vote. “What is the big deal?”
The big deal is that boarding a plane or renting sports equipment is not a Constitutional right. Voting is.
And for many people, getting the proper photo ID is problematic. New York University’s Brennan Center estimates that over half a million Americans face challenges to obtaining proper photo IDs. 11 percent of voting-age citizens lack a current, government-issued photo ID. Among Hispanics, the figure is higher – 16 percent. This is especially worrisome considering that Hispanics already lag in civic participation.
Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania are uniquely burdened by the Voter ID law. In 2010, to cut down on identity theft, Puerto Rico invalidated all previously issued birth certificates (Puerto Ricans were required to apply for new ones with enhanced security features). For Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania, who account for about half of the state’s Hispanic population, this means they have to go through two sets of bureaucratic hurdles to obtain ID for voting, one in Puerto Rico, and another in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett once said, “99 percent of Pennsylvania voters already have acceptable photo IDs.” Thestate’s own figures later proved him wrong. Yet whether the figure is one percent or higher, why is any disenfranchisement of eligible voters acceptable?
It is troubling that Republicans have devoted so much time to passing and defending laws designed to reduce voter turnout. The right to vote is enshrined in our Constitution for a reason. That thousands of eligible voters may find themselves unable to vote this November due to partisan wrangling is offensive, unjust, and un-American.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.