Too far on voter ID

October 3, 2012 

When Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature enacted a strict voter identification law, the House majority leader, Mike Turzai, indulged in some perhaps too-candid boasting in remarks to a GOP group: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”

Turzai doubtless would say that by cracking down on voter fraud perpetrated by Democrats, the state’s new law would let Mitt Romney score an honest victory against President Obama.

But his comment just as easily could be taken as confirming a Republican effort to hold down the Democratic vote by imposing ID requirements so onerous that many otherwise eligible voters would fall by the wayside.

That is the widespread critique of Republican initiatives in many states to tighten up on voting rules. North Carolina’s Gov. Beverly Perdue was rightly concerned about voter disenfranchisement when she vetoed a bill from the Republican General Assembly to make Tar Heel voters show ID. Since older, poorer folks who tend to vote Democratic are more likely to be affected by such rules, Democrats such as Perdue have tried to hold the line – meanwhile, pointing out that the crime of impersonating another voter has rarely been documented.

Now, a judge has agreed that the Pennsylvania law does indeed go too far in restricting access to the polls. If the state is going to force voters to show government-issued photo IDs, the judge ruled, it will have to be more proactive in making sure such IDs can be obtained without undue hassle and expense. That state’s law is one of several that have failed to pass judicial muster.

The ruling could have large implications for Romney’s campaign against Obama. But the reason to applaud it is that it keeps faith with the principle that government should not erect unreasonable barriers to voting.

Pennsylvania’s law, just as the proposed law in North Carolina, was a solution in search of a problem, crafted by partisans who knew what sort of effect it would have. It’s encouraging that the courts have applied the brakes.

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