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Pennsylvania Voter ID: Ask Not Why

Don’t waste any time wondering why Pennsylvania passed a voter ID law. The state’s House Republican majority leader, Mike Turzai, blurted it out in June: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania? Done.” Every Democrat voted against the bill for the perfectly obvious reason that its intent was to suppress Democratic turnout (principally by minimizing participation by low-income blacks). Whether it can succeed in doing so I couldn’t tell you. But suppressing Democratic votes is what it’s meant to do.

That reality carried no weight in yesterday’s decision by Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson. Simpson chided Turzai for his “disturbing, tendentious statements” and then upheld the law. “Factually, I declined to infer that other members of the General Assembly shared the boastful views of Representative Turzai,” wrote Simpson, “without proof that other members were present at the time the statements were made. Also, the statements were made away from the chamber floor.” Oh, please. Turzai isn’t some random member of the Pennsylvania House. He’s the Republican leader. Any notion that other Republicans in the Pennsylvania House would be surprised and appalled to discover they’d voted for a bill to bar Democrats from the polls is preposterous on its face. “Legally, the United States Supreme Court stated in Crawford that ‘if a nondiscriminatory law is supported by valid neutral justifications, those justifications should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.’” Yes, but what if partisan interests provided the only motivation? If voter ID were a good-government measure that some Republicans favored for unsavory partisan reasons, but other, nicer Republicans favored for good-government reasons, wouldn’t it have picked up a few Democratic votes? Simpson’s decision assumes that Republicans take a nuanced and complex view of governance, while Democrats all vote like partisan hacks. Think that may have something to do with the fact that Simpson’s a Republican appointee?