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Proving You Are Who You Say You Are.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | July 7, 2012

No. 871

Pennsylvania has joined a group of states who are requiring photo ID to vote.  A guest post on the Jonathan Turley Blog summarizes the critic’s position.

Proponents say that this measure will prevent voter fraud.  This objection has some merit.  When voters die their registrations are not generally revoked.  Nor are the registrations of those who move away — at least not immediately. It would be quite easy for fraudsters to determine who deceased voters are through public records.  However, acting on this information would be dangerous business, since poll workers and watchers often know the originals from living in the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, elections have been stolen by political organizations — notoriously, they say, in Illinois in the 1960 Presidential Election.  And according to Robert Caro’s latest installment of his epic biography of LBJ, the vote in Texas was also stolen by the Democratic Party organization in 1960.*  But even if this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the current age (presumably because party organizations aren’t what they used to be), its nice to know that there is some kind of protection from mass voter fraud.

On the other hand, critics say that requiring the presentation of photo Identification is an attempt to disenfranchise a large number of people who either don’t want to obtain any formal identification card or are not sufficiently motivated to go to the trouble to get one.

If you read the sci-fi thriller The Traveler by John Twelvehawks, you are familiar with the idea of being “off the grid”.  Persons who were off the grid took pains to be certain that their identity did not appear in any database.  By definition, these people would not register to vote anyway. Nevertheless, there are people around who don’t want to obtain any photo ID on privacy grounds. They are concerned that in police states, persons who cannot produce prescribed identification are detained for further investigation.

The group that is affected most are those who don’t need an identification card for any other purpose and are not sufficiently motivated to get one just to vote.

In 2008 a large number of new voters were registered in Philadelphia by volunteers who went door to door.  A massive organizational effort got them to the poles, producing a landslide in Pennsylvania for Obama.

There is nothing fraudulent in this.  However, there are probably as lot of non-drivers in this group, who are often too poor to own a car. If they don’t go out of their way to get the required photo identification, they won’t be permitted to vote this time. Thus, the 2012 Philadelphia vote will be diminished. The remark by Republican State Senate leader Turzai was presumably founded in this strategy.

In addition, the ID must not be expired.  Of course, if your ID is expired, it should still be adequate to prove who you are — there is a photo to compare.  No one has explained, to my knowledge, why an expired ID cannot be used to prove the identity of the person who  carries it.  And what is to be done if the person viewing the photo does not think that the person in front of him is the same person who appears in the photo? I have seen many driver’s license photos like this.  Changes in hair-do, hair color, eyewear, beards and mustaches, illness, weight loss and gain or aging can all contribute. And some photos just don’t look like the person who posed for them. Even if she does not appear to be the same person, how likely is it that the questioned voter will be sent before  a judge? Not very likely.

Courts, especially federal courts, have a long-standing intolerance for legislation that makes it difficult to exercise the Constitutional right of franchise.  Do not be surprised if photo ID voting laws in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are enjoined by courts this fall.


*It is intriguing to speculate on the course of history if Nixon had been awarded the electoral votes of either Illinois or Texas in 1960.  Would there have been no Presidential assassination in 1963?  Would there have then been no Watergate?  No Civil Rights Act of 1964?  No Medicare/Medicaid? What would have happened in Vietnam?



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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