May 24, 2011

PARA Opposes Bill That Would Disenfranchise Seniors

Jean Friday, President of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans, issued the following statement to PA General Assembly Members regarding House Bill 934 – the Voter ID bill currently under consideration.

“The Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans strongly opposes House Bill 934, because it will disenfranchise Pennsylvania seniors, thereby compromising the legitimacy of the elections themselves.HB 934 would require voters show a valid, state-issued photo ID every time they vote.  For those of us who drive, this requirement might seem like little more than a nuisance which delays the line at the polling place.  However, before legislators vote on this bill, they should consider the large population of Pennsylvanians for whom this requirement would be a great obstacle.  Of specific concern to the Alliance for Retired Americans is the fact that 18% of American seniors lack valid photo ID.  In Pennsylvania, that could mean that this bill could disenfranchise a greater number of seniors than the total population of Pittsburgh!  It is unthinkable that men and women who have voted at their polling place for decades could show up next year and be turned away.  The very idea ought to send shivers down the spine of any person who cares about democracy – let alone Legislators who owe their jobs to voters.

“I am aware that this bill would provide free ID cards to voters who don’t currently have them for the purposes of voting.  However, removing the cost still leaves great burdens in place for many seniors.  First of all, homebound seniors would still need to find transportation to the DMV in their County to get the ID card, despite any disabilities they might have.  This will be especially difficult for seniors living in rural counties where they must travel dozens of miles and no public transportation options are available.  Still, when seniors get to the DMV, many would be unable to produce the documents necessary to obtain a new state ID.  In the absence of a current driver’s license or state ID, seniors would be expected to produce two proofs of residency, their Social Security Card and either a current passport or their birth certificate (and marriage certificate in the case of women who took their husbands’ name).  Many seniors have lost track of their birth certificate years ago.  Overall, the entire process would make voting impossible for many seniors, despite the fact that the fee for creating the ID has been waived.

“In addition to HB 934 being unfair to seniors, it is also reckless spending at a time when the budget is tight.  This legislation will cost the taxpayers an estimated $11 Million in just the first year of its implementation to provide free IDs, as well as publicize the new requirements.  This is in addition to any costs borne by Counties who would have to re-train poll workers and implement the new law on Election Days.  Given the ongoing discussions about budget cuts for health care, schools, the environment and infrastructure, we simply cannot afford to add even this relatively small expense to the budget.  In effect, due to the budget constraints, passage of HB 934 would not only disenfranchise seniors, but it would also hurt schools, hospitals and roads by siphoning away portions of their budgets!

“Proponents justify the onerous obstacles to voting and the reckless spending contained in HB 934 by crying “Voter Fraud”.  However, the facts simply do not support their argument.  All academic research on the subject points to errors by poll workers contributing to almost all election mistakes and irregularities.  Despite a vigorous effort by the Justice Department under President Bush to investigate voter fraud, no voter-impersonation schemes were unearthed.  The voter fraud that has been successfully prosecuted has dealt with registration fraud as well as absentee ballot tampering.  These issues would not be addressed by HB 934.

“HB 934 is opposed by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, (CCAP) the bi-partisan organization representing all County Commissioners across the Commonwealth.  County Commissioners, of course, also serve as Election Boards under Pennsylvania Law and oversee elections as part of their duties.  CCAP submitted testimony to the House State Government Committee stating that there is no evidence that Voter Fraud of this type is a problem in Pennsylvania.  In their words, it is, “…a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“Current law does stipulate that voters show valid ID the first time they vote at a polling place.  This requirement, and other measures such as regular purges of deceased individuals or voters who move, would mean that for an unauthorized individual to cast a ballot on election day they would have to find a currently registered individual who had voted in the polling place before, pose as that person at the polls by duplicating their signature, and also be sure that the individual they are impersonating does not show up to vote also.  This type of voter-impersonation scheme is also quite unbelievable due to the risk-reward calculation.  An individual would risk a $10,000 fine and 5 years in prison (plus deportation for a non-citizen) just to cast 1 vote!  Furthermore, a large-scale voter-impersonation scheme would almost certainly need the complicity of the election officials at the polling site who would be charged with enforcing HB 934 anyway.  When taken all together, the idea that a group of people could organize this fraud on a larger scale in one precinct or across the state is simply absurd.

“The 300,000 members of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans urge legislators to oppose HB 934.  This misguided bill would spend taxpayer dollars to disenfranchise thousands of Pennsylvanians – all to solve a problem that is mere fiction.   It must be defeated.”

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