by Chris Potter
Short answer: Not exactly.
There's been a lot of buzz about this Talking Points Memo report, which notes that when Pennsylvania's Voter ID bill is argued before Commonwealth Court tommorrow, the state will not be arguing that in-person voter fraud has been a problem, or that it will be one in the coming November election. The report is based on a "stipulation agreement" -- a legal filing in which both sides spell out things they won't be arguing over in court. And in this case, both the ACLU, which has sued to overturn the law, and state officials agree they won't be arguing over how often voter fraud happens. According to the agreement, the state "will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere." Nor will they argue "that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law."
But that doesn't necessarily mean that, as the Talking Point Memo headline asserts, "Pennsylvania Admits There's No In-Person Voter Fraud." They're simply choosing not to argue about it, which isn't the same thing.
As the stipulation agreement notes, the state's "sole rationale for the Photo ID law," is contained in a response to written questions filed by the ACLU. And in that answer, the state makes quite clear that it has plenty of suspicions that Voter ID does take place ... and that one purpose of the law is to ferret out such cases.
State officials "are aware of reports indicating that votes have been cast in the name of registered electors who are deceased, who no longer reside in Pennsylvania , or who no longer reside in the jurisdiction where the vote is cast," the state's answer asserts. And without some proof of ID, the state contends, "there is a risk that votes may be cast in the names of registered electors who are dead or who have left [the area] by a person other than the registered voters ... Requiring a photo ID is one way to ensure that every elector who presents himself to vote [is] the person that he purports to be, and to ensure that the public has confidence in the electoral process. The requirement of a photo ID is a tool to detect and deter voter fraud."
Elsewhere in its response, the state cites a smattering of reports, including one by WPXI-TV, alleging outdated voter rolls including dead people, as well as a variety of other irregularities in Philadelphia especially. And it notes that part of the reason state officials lack knowledge of voter fraud is that conducting elections is largely the job of county officials.
"[C]ounty boards of elections, the district boards of elections, and their respective staffs are in the best position to detect and respond directly to election frauds committed in their respective jurisdictions," the response argues.
I can see why skeptics are running with the stipulated agreement, and using it as a basis for criticism. Democrats have understandably seized on the fact that Gov. Tom Corbett himself didn't prosecute any voter fraud cases when he was the state Attorney General. Hell, I made a joking tweet about the stipulation agreement myself last week. What's more, even after reading a fuller explanation of the state's position, it's not as if they have a particularly strong case. Many of the voting irregularities it cites are more than a decade old, took place in other states, or both. Some of them are simply canards: Chris Briem at Null Space, for example, has previously addressed the myth of dead voters showing up at polls.
Still, it's a distortion to say the state has admitted voter fraud never takes place. There are all kinds of reasons why lawyers decide against making an argument in court -- questions of jurisdiction, whether evidence is admissable, and so on. But that doesn't mean state officials can't, or won't, make the case on the courthouse steps.
In fact, I'm now hearing that the secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, plans to hold a press conference in about an hour. We'll see how she pleads in the court of public opinion.