Later this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will reconsider its decision to strike down Arizona's requirement that residents provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. This requirement was in addition to the state's existing law that voters provide identification each time they vote.
Why mention Arizona? Because, with both chambers of the General Assembly in Republican control, as well as the governor's residence, Pennsylvania is starting to eerily reflect the viewpoint of the Grand Canyon State. As Arizona continues to legalize discrimination and disfranchise lawful voters, Pennsylvania should not be looking to Arizona for direction.
Even the federal government believes some of Arizona's laws overstep bounds. It sued over the state's immigration law, and it recently filed a court brief against Arizona's citizenship voter registration requirement, saying that Congress forbids states from requiring proof of citizenship in order to vote.
It has been a slippery slope with regard to voter identification since the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election. The federal Help America Vote Act was signed in 2002, which, among other things, required first-time voters to show identification when they went to vote. And we have been sliding ever since.
In all, 29 states have broader voter identification requirements than what the federal government requires. Nearly 1,000 bills in total have been introduced in 46 states in the last decade, including H.B. 934 here in Pennsylvania. It's certainly a hot topic.
The question is why? Proponents claim that H.B. 934 would cut down on voter impersonation, but this type of fraud rarely occurs. The Brennan Center says that more people are struck by lightning each year. The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission said that since 2004 there have been four cases of misrepresentation at Pennsylvania polls out of the 19.4 million ballots cast.
Requiring voters to provide photo ID at the polls would not address the more frequent types of fraud: multiple voting through absentee and election administrator misconduct. These are the simplest and also the least detectable means of voter fraud.
So while the cases of fraud are negligible, the hurdles created by this bill are real and will result in voter suppression and a $9.8 million price tag for the state to implement.
I think that people are even more motivated to vote right now, and this bill will suppress voter turnout. Perhaps that is what the Republicans are after, since most of those impacted - senior citizens, inner-city residents, minorities and naturalized citizens - tend to vote Democratic.
For many of those without valid government-issued ID, even obtaining the free photo ID that the state would be required to provide to all residents under H.B. 934 will be difficult due to transportation and mobility issues and work/childcare conflicts.
Also at issue is the cost. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians lack photo ID. A recent analysis by the House Democratic Appropriations Committee estimates that it will cost $9.8 million to implement this bill - from providing the free photo identification card to the expense of producing them, from the additional staff time needed to make the cards and the training for poll workers, to the additional resources for public education campaigns about the change in requirements and even processing the provisional ballots, which cost more to review. It's also not inconceivable for Pennsylvania to lose revenue from those seeking free ID cards many otherwise might have paid for.
These extra costs are important to consider as we face a Republican budget proposal with significant cuts to public education, environmental protection, and human services program funding. Now is not the time to be mandating such a costly prospect.
Gov. Corbett, in his March budget address, likened Pennsylvania to Texas, and other GOP'ers wish we were more like Arizona. What's wrong with Pennsylvania being Pennsylvania? Our state should be proud, especially with our role in the founding of this country. Given our rich history of participation, we should be doing everything we can to preserve - and even encourage - voting. Disfranchising voters is not what Ben Franklin, Lucretia Mott and our other founders would have wanted.
State Rep. Babette Josephs represents the 182nd Legislative District in Philadelphia. She is Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee.