Philadelphia — An Oct. 2 ruling by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson that partially enjoined the state’s controversial voter identification (ID) law is being hailed as a “victory” by some opponents. Others, however, fear that the court just added more confusion for potential voters to muddle through.
Under the latest legalese, full implementation of the law requiring voters to produce current photo identification in order to vote is postponed until after the November election. Simpson ruled that for now, voters can be asked to show photo ID at polling places, but if they lack the required card, their votes should still be counted. The law is not dead – just delayed. Unless further challenged, the law will take full effect in 2013.
Simpson refused to block the law this summer when he heard requests for injunction. That decision was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which directed Simpson to block the law unless he could show that no one would be disenfranchised.
Under the terms of the Philadelphia law, which was voted into effect in March, individuals who lacked a current photo ID had to bring proof of citizenship, including an original birth certificate, to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDoT) office, then return later to get a photo ID, for which they could be charged a fee.
Subsequent reviews of Pennsylvania registered voter lists found 758,939 instances where names were not found on PennDoT’s list of current driver’s licenses. In addition, more than 500,000 registered voters were found to have expired driver’s licenses.
As opposition mounted to this law — seen by many as a Jim-Crow-era poll tax specifically engineered to disenfranchise poor and minority voters — PennDoT repeatedly rewrote its requirements, creating even more confusion. One PennDoT mail campaign showed a state driver’s license with the message “Show it” in order to vote. Millions of state voters, especially those in impoverished urban areas, do not have driver’s licenses. But what was shown was not the ID issued by PennDoT to enable nondrivers to vote.
Chief Counsel Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group opposed to voter ID laws, voiced concern that Simpson’s ruling could create confusion since it lets poll workers ask for ID, but does not say what they should do if voters don’t have it or won’t show identification. (USA Today, Oct. 3)
No matter how watered down it is, as long as the law remains on the books there is always the possibility that voters without ID could be turned away by overzealous poll watchers. Challengers of the law are pushing PennDoT to change its voter education campaign to make it clear that no photo ID is required this year.
National attack on voting rights
Bills similar to Pennsylvania’s have been pushed by right-wing legislatures across the U.S. A Government Accountability Office report released Oct. 6 showed that 21 states passed new voter ID laws and seven tightened existing ID requirements. Six states passed new proof-of-citizenship requirements; 18 states imposed new restrictions on voter registration drives over the past 10 years.
While several of these bills have faced legal challenges, many are still on the books. In addition, more than 4.4 million formerly incarcerated people are permanently disenfranchised in all but two states.
Intended to limit turnout from Black and Latino/a communities most likely to vote Democratic, Republican-dominated legislatures used the generally unfounded fear of “voter fraud” to push their disenfranchisement campaign. Ironically, the actual fraud netted by one of these bills in Florida was paid for by the Republican National Committee.
The national RNC paid Strategic Allied Consulting $3 million to conduct voter-registration drives in seven battleground states. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement found 220 suspect forms filed by the company in 10 counties. Multiple forms were filled out in the same handwriting. Signatures, birthdays or addresses did not match other state records. Party registrations were changed, sometimes to Republican.