Pennsylvania Voter ID Law: A Solution Without a Problem

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I was driving home today from a conference on online copyright enforcement, and in case you missed our frenzy of Tweets ( #copyrightcitp) live from the event, I promise to write more about it in our upcoming news feature on anti-piracy legislation. But this blog is not about digital pirates.

My attention was drawn to a public radio news report about a group of voter ID cases that have recently made headlines.

The commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my former home state for nearly two decades, is currently considering a bill that would require strict identification requirements when attempting to vote in an election. The US justice department earlier this week blocked a nearly identical law set to take affect this year in Texas, but will not be afforded the same power should the Pennsylvania House of Representatives pass the bill this week. Texas, unlike Pennsylvania, does not have a history of restricting voting rights according to the Voting Rights Act, and therefore will not face the same review.

The commentator noted that the strict state-issued ID requirements now being considered were a ‘solution with no problem’. (Pardon me for not pulling over to write the name down, but its Jersey traffic we are talking about here.) With these words, I instantly recalled a conversation I had about this very topic with security expert Bruce Schneier.

He observed that voter fraud is largely an organizational problem, and not an individual one:

I asked him, keeping in mind that he’s not a voting ‘expert’, whether voting fraud is easy to pull off. He replied by first establishing some definitions.

“Voter fraud, which is like voting when you shouldn’t, is effectively a media myth – it never happens”, Schneier proclaims. “Vote fraud, stuff like votes disappearing, tabulators being manipulated – that stuff is scarily easy.”

‘How does he know?’, I wonder to myself, quickly realizing that he’s likely already worked out several ways to crack the voting machines or processes he has encountered.

Schneier, who to this point had been more than direct with a quick, frank response, was not afraid to ‘get political’. “So there’s the Republican trope of, all those illegal immigrants are voting – that’s complete bullshit. The scary thing that either side can manipulate – machines – is very worrying.”

The public radio report went on to outline the pros and cons of the debate. On the one side, you ensure the one-person-on-vote principle. On the other, critics say it will potentially disenfranchise the poor, elderly, and disabled – not to mention certain minority groups – who may not have easy access to obtain an official ID.

Read into Schneier’s politics however you like from these comments, but as a person who started out studying and analyzing politics before technology, I can’t help but agree with his assertions.

It seems here that the problem with voter fraud lies more in manipulation of systems by people with ill intent. What it’s not is a problem with illegal aliens lining up at polling places, or overzealous supporters voting more than once.

These voter ID bills, in my opinion, are a xenophobic response to a problem that does not exist. They are not about voting security, but rather voter disenfranchisement.

Are they racist in nature? Perhaps they are, but being a resident of New Jersey now, I will not pass judgement on my former Pennsylvanians.

Nevertheless, I would ask the people of Pennsylvania to remember their roots: A colony started by a Quaker, founded on the principles of free exercise of religion and with open arms to all immigrant groups. The people of Texas are a proud bunch, and I mean no disrespect. But ask yourselves: Is this Texas, or are we Pennsylvanians?

And if you agree with me, take it upon yourself to contact your local representative and voice your opinion. If the same bill ever comes up for consideration in New Jersey, I promise to do the same.

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