At a recent meeting of the Pennsylvania GOP State Committee, the top Republican in the state House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, declared that a new requirement for voters to show identification with a photograph on it “is going to allow Gov. [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” He drew wild applause from Republicans in the crowd.
The new law being referred to won approval under the state’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett and the GOP majority in the state legislature.
The result is that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters are suddenly at risk of losing their right to vote. Eighteen percent of the registered voters in Philadelphia do not have government issued photographic identification.
That means they won’t be able to vote.
According to a July report from the Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth, more than 758,000 voters statewide do not have the necessary photo identification cards issued by the State Department of Transportation. President Obama won the state by about 600,000 votes in 2008.
A suit to block the new law – by the American Civil Liberties Union – has been filed on behalf of a 93-year-old great grandmother who has voted in nearly every election for the past 60 years but who is unable to obtain the photo ID necessary for her to vote this year.
In response to the ACLU suit Pennsylvania officials admitted in court documents that they do not have one shred of evidence of significant voter fraud in the state.
“There have been no investigations of prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states,” according to official state papers sent to the court.
But when Pennsylvania’s Republican made the case for the new law they did not say that. They instead followed a script being used by Republicans nationally and claimed that the identification laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
Let me offer an analogy:
What is going on here is that the GOP is yelling ‘Fire’ when there is no fire. Their goal is to reduce the number of Democrats casting ballots in the November election. The GOP has created a fictional controversy about voter fraud to hide the reality of efforts to suppress likely Democratic voters.
In this fall’s presidential election the elimination of a few thousand Democrats from voting booths could determine which candidate gets the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes and the potentially the presidency.
The latest Quinnipiac poll gives President Obama an 11 percent lead over Romney in Pennsylvania. But depressing the number of Democrats voting is a sure technique for wiping out that lead.
The Republican search for evidence of voter fraud has increased since the razor close 2000 election. That is when higher percentages of young people, minorities and first generation immigrants – all likely Democratic voters – began to make it hard for Republicans to win national elections.
The George W. Bush administration’s controversial firing of US Attorneys was rooted in their upset that Republican appointees said they could not find evidence of significant voter fraud to prosecute.
In 2007 a New York Times story on the Bush Justice Department’s effort to find and punish voter fraud reported that the Justice Department “has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.” The reporters found: “Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process.” But the reporters concluded that after five years only 86 people in the whole nation had been convicted and most of those involved misunderstandings of the rules, not intentional fraud.
Similar investigations of claims of voter fraud by GOP officials in Wisconsin, Kansas and South Carolina have also uncovered mistakes, such as bad data at the department of motor vehicles, but no evidence of fraud.
The failure to find evidence of voter fraud has not stopped this Republican charade.
Sixteen states, all with Republican controlled state legislatures, have passed these restrictive new voting laws since 2011. These include battleground states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimates that more than 5 million Americans could be prevented from voting this November. They estimate that one in ten Americans do not have the necessary identification.
Their latest Brennan report shows that more than 10 million eligible voters live “more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office.” Many of these voters do not have public transportation readily available to them and many of the offices that issue the IDs are only open during weekdays for limited hours when most people are working.
The report also says that copies of birth certificates needed to get these ID scans cost between as much as $25. It shows how marriage licenses, which are required for women whose birth certificates only show their maiden name, can cost up to $20. Adjusted for inflation, those fees are more than the poll tax in many Southern states during the Jim Crow era. Poll taxes have historically been used to disenfranchise minorities and poor people.
As the executive summary for the most recent Brennan report state “The result is plain, Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote. They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen.”
No matter our politics, Americans must be vigilant in fighting brazen, ugly attempts to take it away from any citizen.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.