Back in April, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele visited the editorial board of the Erie Times-News newspaper to speak with them about the new photo voter ID bill Governor Tom Corbett had just signed into law. The bill is supposed to fight or prevent voter fraud, but as with every other state that has passed voter ID laws, this fraud is mostly a boogeyman that seems to only haunt Republicans in their dreams (Check this Rolling Stone slideshow for an excellent ride through voter fraud myth debunkment).
Aichele’s Erie visit was part of a state tour to educate voters about what they’d need for compliance with law and for the ability to exercise their right to vote. One of the IDs acceptable for voting is a state employee photo identification card. However, the law also says that IDs must have a current expiration date for voter eligibility, and the state employee cards do not. Aichele seemed to overlook this paradox in her education drive.
“Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele showed her state photo ID, which is not acceptable for voting because it doesn’t have an expiration date,” wrote the editorial board after she showed hers to them. It must have been humiliating for the secretary who was promoting the new law to find that her own example didn’t hold muster. It’s bad enough mandating that voters have ID cards, but to add the additional restriction that the ID needs an expiration date makes it even more obtrusive. The editorial says that 10 percent of Pennsylvanians, or 88,000, do not have a valid photo ID—though that number is contested and is thought to be much larger.
I wonder what the Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin would have thought of this law. Back in his day, the requirement for voting was that a (white) man own property as opposed to ID (or is an identification card considered property?), which Franklin thought was foolish. In his tract “Flowers of Literature, Wit and Sentiment,” he tells the story of a man who owns a jackass and hence is entitled to vote. But the jackass dies. Meanwhile, even though the man has become more educated about government he can no longer vote because his property, the jackass, is gone. “Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?” asked Franklin.
I won’t say that Aichele made a jackass out of her ID card when she showed it to the editorial board. But the lawmakers and the governor who made this law are allowing democracy to expire every time a voter ID card is required or rejected. Even in offering Pennsylvanians free voter ID cards, it’s still a measure that places the right to vote in a plastic card rather than in the citizen.
Acknowledging the burden this law places on voters who lack ID or the means and documents to easily get one, Aichele introduced a new initiative that allows voters who don’t have their birth certificate to submit certain information to the state’s health department for verifying voter eligibility and granting them ID. The program is only for Pennsylvania natives, so if you were born in another state, tough luck. Many older African-Americans migrated to Pennsylvania from the South, where many likely were born without the benefit of a hospital that kept their birth record.