Misleading stats driving Pennsylvania voter ID criticism

David Almasi Executive Director, NCPPR
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Contrary to breathless media reports, there’s no reason to believe over 750,000 Pennsylvanians will be turned away from polling places in November as a result of new voter ID protections.

Upon closer inspection, such reporting is much ado about nothing. If anything, it makes a stronger case for reforming the voting process to protect against identity fraud at the polls.

What the Pennsylvania Departments of State and Transportation did was compare the registered voter list with the driver’s license list. It determined that there are over three-quarters of a million more people on the voter list.

The headlines and lead paragraphs lead one to believe that each of the names on the list represents a legitimate Pennsylvania voter who is not going to be able to vote in November. Slate’s Dave Weigel called it “an apocalypse to watch out for.” A Philadelphia Inquirer report asserts the disparity indicates the new law is “putting … voting rights at risk.”

It’s only past these shocking leads that one learns that other forms of ID are acceptable. Provisional ballots are available. Furthermore, a substantial portion of the names on the list may not even be eligible voters.

As Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has explained: “This comparison takes into account only voters with PennDOT IDs, and does not include voters who may have any of the other various acceptable forms of ID.”

Under Pennsylvania’s new ballot protection rules, other acceptable forms of identification at the polls besides a driver’s license include military IDs, school IDs from accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities, passports, government ID badges and identification issued by Pennsylvania care facilities.

Care facilities include nursing homes, assisted living residences and other places serving the elderly, a demographic that opponents of voter security measures claim are disproportionally affected. This law defuses that, since facilities have flexibility in creating sufficient ID — as long as it contains a photo, the person’s name, the facility’s name and an expiration date after Election Day.

To run with this report as proof of mass disfranchisement by the new voter protection law is just plain wrong. Plenty of people don’t have a driver’s license. My wife was one of them until the age of 30 because — until then — she lived in a metropolitan area or on a college campus and had no need to drive. But she always had government-issued identification, because an ID is integral to everyday things such as banking, traveling and voting.

Critics of the state’s new voter ID law don’t mention that those 750,000+ Pennsylvania voters without licenses will be mailed a letter from state officials explaining the new ballot security law, what IDs are acceptable and where a free one can be obtained if they need one.

Many of the 750,000+ people on the list of Pennsylvanians who are registered to vote but lack driver’s licenses have, or can easily obtain, other forms of identification. Others may be on the list in error. For example, Pennsylvania’s U.S. senator running for re-election campaigns as Bob Casey. But his official Senate website says his name is Robert P. Casey, Jr. If he uses the same colloquialism on his driver’s license and the formal name on his voter registration, he’d be on the list. But he’d still be allowed to vote at the polls when he shows his valid photo ID.

But some of the people on that list are there for justifiable reasons. According to the state, 167,566 people on the list — over 22 percent — haven’t voted since 2007. If they don’t respond to their letter, they go on an “inactive” list. If they don’t vote in the next two federal elections, they can legitimately be removed. These inactive voters may be people who died or moved — thus explaining why there is no longer a corresponding valid driver’s license. If that’s the case, these invalid registrations are tempting targets for identity thieves whose criminal acts nullify the votes of legitimate voters.

For the media and opponents of ballot box protections to claim that over 750,000 Pennsylvania voters may not get to vote this November because they lack a driver’s license is alarmist and misrepresents the provisions of the new voter ID law. Weakening such identity protections would only play into the hands of those who mean to steal votes and improperly subvert the electoral process.

David Almasi is the executive director of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.