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How Government Hackery Undermines Partisan Hackery

"I don't know what the law says." That's what Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele said in response to a rudimentary question about identification cards posed by an attorney for plaintiffs challenging Pennsylvania's new voter ID law.

On the one hand, Aichele is hardly alone; many people don't know what the law says. On the other hand, Aichele is the state official in charge of implementing the law in question. As the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported today, "Ms. Aichele has served as the administration's face in explaining the law to the press and the public since its signing in March."

Aichele also testified that 99 percent of Pennsylvania voters have the necessary photo ID the law requires to vote. The state government that employs her had previously noted that the names of roughly 750,000 registered voters do not appear to have identification from PennDOT, which issues state driver's licenses. That's about 9 percent of the electorate. The numbers lacking photo ID in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia are especially high.

Here's the Post Gazette again:

After defending the 99-percent analysis, Ms. Aichele was pressed further about the number of registered voters without photo identification. She responded: "We don't know."

Before this week's trial even began, the state had already conceded that there have been no investigations or prosecutions of the kind of in-person voter fraud that the voter ID law is ostensibly designed to combat. The state said it would offer no evidence that in-person voter fraud has happened or is likely to occur in the 2012 election.

That's the thing about legislation designed by partisans for the sole purpose of advancing partisan goals. Since the public rationale for the law is completely unrelated to the genuine rationale, it's hard to square it with either objective reality or legitimate government objectives. In Pennsylvania, no one promoting the law bothered with due diligence about facts and negative impacts. The facts were beside the point, the negative impacts were the point. Partisan hackery begets governmental hackery. And from the looks of the trial this week in Pennsylvania, that could be the partisans' undoing.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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