On the eve of a high profile trial challenging Pennsylvania's new voter id law, the state has admitted that they have no evidence of any real problem the law was designed to address. Specifically, the parties have stipulated in advance of trial that there “have been no investigations or 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.” Further, the state has agreed that they “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.” The state even agreed that they will not argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.”
Why do litigants agree to stipulations such as these? Usually because a stipulation will soften the blow for the party making the admission. In other words, the state's attorneys would rather admit that they have no evidence of voter fraud, than give the other side the opportunity to introduce evidence of a lack of voter fraud. This should mean that the state has the burden of justifying the likely discriminatory effects this law is going to have on the poor, the elderly, and minority voters by relying solely on hypothetical and undocumented threats to the integrity of the voting process. This is the wonderful thing about courts and the legal system for which we should really show more appreciation. In court, you can't just waltz in and say whatever the hell you want. You have to prove it. And if you can't prove it, you have to admit that you have no evidence to support what you are saying.
The plaintiff in the case is Vivette Applewhite, a 93 year old woman who has no driver's license or other id but has been voting regularly for more than 50 years. To people who say it's not such an imposition to require the poor and the elderly to go get a picture id, my response is, why should they? This woman has a right to vote. She shows up every year to her precinct, where the poll workers undoubtedly recognize her and happily hand her a ballot. To suggest that Ms. Applewhite should be turned away this year because a bunch of state legislators have dreamed up a new hoop she should have to jump through to vote, is an insult to people like Ms. Applewhite, and an outrageous assault on our most important right. And these (mostly) Republican legislators who have been so eager to adopt these requirements are supposedly so distrustful of the government! Yet they want to allow the government to take away the most precious tool for maintaining our freedom from anyone who doesn't have the time, the inclination or the ability to obtain some government-issued paperwork.
If the state of Pennsylvania wants to institute a new fraud prevention system, to guard against threats they are unable to substantiate, they ought to go door to door to make sure that people like Vivette Applewhite get whatever papers are needed. And they ought to apologize to her for the inconvenience of having to answer the door to receive that paper. Vivette Applewhite should not have to lift a finger to get more proof that she is eligible to vote. It should be more than enough for her to get herself down to the polling station. As a matter of fact, the state should probably be providing free rides to help the sick and the elderly do that.
But we know that these voter id laws were not designed to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote. They were designed for the opposite purpose. And at least one state legislator was candid enough to admit the legislators' real motives.