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'Sinister and cynical'

Wednesday, August 15, 2012 by NATE JASTRZEMSKI in Local News

... last reactions before voter ID decision

It's been on the national stage and in the Harrisburg courts, but even here in the semi-rural Lehigh Valley the Voter ID law is maligned as a needless and expensive partisan encroachment on basic American rights.

As liberals decry the law's unconstitutionality, conservatives have faced a court decision on an argument so thin they wouldn't even use their straw man in the proceedings.

"Studies have shown that voter fraud, in this manner, is virtually unheard of," said Joan Dean, president of the League of Women Voters-Northampton County in an email. "The Brennan Center for Justice, after exhaustive research, found that voter fraud happens at a rate of 0.0004 percent.

"If a mechanic told you there was a 0.0004 percent chance of your car engine failing, would you pay him to put a new engine in your car? And, would you continue to patronize this mechanic in the future?" Dean asked.

Dean said the law would cost the commonwealth between $6 million and $11 million and would also increase the bureaucracy needed to manage the additional work.

Dean also said the LWV has been responding to requests for speakers or additional information about how the law might impact locals. "We have already been to senior living centers, multi-lingual groups, and student campuses. Everyone wants to know what they need to vote in November.

"Like other organizations trying to deal with this, the League has spent hundreds of dollars printing forms and documents for handouts at events, along with researching and reacting to inquiries." Dean said. "Of course, we are not only happy to do this (it is our raison d'être,) but we are anxious that even ONE voter may be turned away from their right to vote."

Meanwhile elections bureaus have been in a collective holding pattern while awaiting the constitutionality decision.

Gina Gibbs, deputy of Northampton County Elections, said via telephone they have a plan in place to ensure Gracedale county nursing home residents are all properly prepared for November, but other residents are effectively on their own. "We're doing our best but voters need to do their best with the Department of Transportation," she said.

Gibbs added her office will have additional information one way or the other following the decision, but has not been actively working to inform the public as the LWV has because, "it would be counter-productive" to front the additional expenses on something that may not be necessary.

Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, didn't hesitate to share his opinion.

"This action is the kind of thing that has led to so many Americans giving up on their faith in our democracy, in their ability to have any say in their government, or any belief they might ever have had that participation matters," he said. "Combined with Citizens United, in which our Supreme Court determined that corporations are people with the same rights to buy politicians as the lucky few Americans do, Pennsylvania's new law deals a fatal blow to any notion that government exists for those who need it most."

Jennings added, "[This law] is about a blatant effort, as sinister as it is cynical, to take away the most fundamental right we as Americans have had since the very beginning of our great nation."

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. is expected to release his decision some time this week.