New Castle News

September 24, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Voter ID rules fail Republican test

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s a common Republican Party theme:

Government has too many regulations. The rules it establishes and hoops it sets up for businesses to jump through impede growth and progress in our society.

A smaller, leaner government that avoids restrictions and burdensome rules would benefit the nation.

It’s a credible argument — one that can be documented in assorted ways.

So why, when it comes to Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law, has the Republican Party taken a completely different tack?

In personal stories and court proceedings, we are learning how difficult this new law makes voting for some people, even though they are obviously qualified to do so.

Backers of the law try to say its rules are simple and it’s easy for everyone to comply with. But that’s not so. Perhaps for the average person, who has a driver’s license or other common ID, the law is no big deal. But not everyone is so fortunate to escape the clutches of the Voter ID law so readily.

This is why the law is still rattling around in the Pennsylvania court system. Even Republicans on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to give their stamp of approval.

Instead, in what seems to be a move that gives the Corbett administration one last chance to legitimize the measure, the justices sent it back to the lower court for additional review, complete with a tougher set of standards.

Yet amid all the legal and political jousting, it’s worth asking the question: Why are heavy-handed regulations imposed on potential voters OK when such rules imposed on businesses produce cries of GOP outrage?

The answer can be provided in one word: Hypocrisy.

When the state’s Voter ID law was approved by a Republican-dominated Legislature and administration, we were told it was necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, no documentation of such fraud was produced. And when the legislation wound up in court, the Corbett administration admitted from the start it could provide no evidence of fraud.

Instead, the law was presented as a preventive measure, to make sure fraud never occurs. The fact it made voting difficult for thousands of Pennsylvanians apparently was of no great concern.

And last week, on a radio talk show, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the main sponsor of the Voter ID legislation, dismissed complaints about the measure by saying, “... we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need.”

I wonder if he would say the same thing about businesses that chafe under state regulations.

What we see with the Voter ID law is one of the consequences of single-party rule. Ideally, the sausage grinder of the legislative process gives us a final product that’s been properly reviewed, tested and debated, with input from a variety of interests factored in.

But when one party — Democrat or Republican — is in complete control of government, a key goal is to find ways to shore up power and weaken the opposition. That was documented by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who told a GOP gathering earlier this year that the Voter ID law would assure a Mitt Romney victory in Pennsylvania.

However, there is a good chance the measure will not survive in the courts. And instead of giving Republicans additional advantage, the tactic provides Democrats with ammunition to use against the party in power.

In the end, Voter ID may come back to bite the GOP.