Pennsylvania court has 10 days to re-decide in voter-ID case: In hopeful sign, but a frustrating 4-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the commonwealth court judge who upheld the state's restrictive voter-ID law should reconsider. Given the timing, the decision could mean the law will not be implemented this year.

The fundamental issue behind the court's ruling was that it could impose an onerous burden on citizens who don't yet have one of the permitted IDs to obtain one in time to cast a ballot. Four of the justices, three Republicans and one Democrat, voted to remand the case to the commonwealth court to review whether it would, in fact, be such a burden. The estimate of Pennsylvanians without the right ID runs from 100,000 to 1.6 million.

The court majority ruled:

[W]e are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though we have no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.

Thus, we will return the matter to the Commonwealth Court to make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available. In this regard, the court is to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards. If they do not, or if the Commonwealth Court is not still convinced in its predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election, that court is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction.

But two Democrats on the court dissented. In essence, they said it's too late to be sending this back for review, and the supreme court itself should block the law for this coming election. Justice Debra Todd:
Seven weeks before an election, the voters are entitled to know the rules.

By remanding to the Commonwealth Court, at this late date, and at this most critical civic moment, in my view, this Court abdicates its duty to emphatically decide a legal controversy vitally important to the citizens of this Commonwealth. The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this Court has chosen to punt rather than to act. I will have no part of it.

The supreme court gave Commonwealth Court Judge Richard Simpson until Oct. 2 to complete his review. Hearings will begin Monday, Sept. 25.

So far, only about 10,000 citizens have obtained a non-driver's photo ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. It can take a long time in line to get one, as Cheryl Ann Moore discovered. A survey by SEIU found that nearly half those seeking an ID from PennDOT had to make two trips. One woman waited 10 1/2 hours with her 1-year-old son. As David Dayen reported, only some of the state's PennDOT offices issue the required non-driver IDs and 13 of those are only open once a week.

With tongue only partly in cheek, Marcy Wheeler said:

Of course, the underlying problem is that states have cut back on services to the point where Republicans can’t even disenfranchise people efficiently enough under the law.

This is not over yet—the judge in PA can still certify an inadequate DOT network hunky dory in PA.

But for the moment it appears Mitt’s disenfranchisement is being drowned in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

The Independence Hall Tea Party has declared it will seek to defeat two of the supreme court justices when they come up for election in 2013 if the voter-ID law isn't in effect in this year's election. One justice is a Democrat, the other a Republican.

(Continue reading voter suppression news below the fold.)

In other voter news

  • Here is a not suitable for family viewing smackdown of overly restrictive voter-ID laws by Sarah Silverman:
  • Pennsylvania state legislator calls people with proper ID "lazy":

    Rep. Daryl Metcalfe told a local radio station:

    HOST: Are you absolutely convinced […] that the methods to implement this law are effective and will in fact make sure no legitimate voter will be disenfranchised?

    METCALFE: I don’t believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right and takes on the according responsiblity that goes with that right to secure their photo ID will be disenfranchised. As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors’ hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can’t fix that.

  • Restrictive voting laws fire up Democratic organizers:
    Volunteers have poured into the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party to make sure that the nation's most restrictive, Republican-passed voter-ID law does not keep eligible citizens from casting ballots this year.
    “It’s really lit a fire under a lot of people,” said Mark Nicastre, communications director for the state Democratic Party. “We’ve been very lucky to get probably three times the number of volunteers that we otherwise would have seen, and somewhere around six times the number of contributions.” [...]

    Conservatives say they are baffled that Democrats have gotten so riled up over a thing like photo I.D. “I really don’t understand it. It defies reality,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Indiana and Georgia had strict photo-ID laws in place in 2008 and yet saw record Democratic turnout, he pointed out.

  • Colleges work to ensure students have proper ID:
    After college IDs were added to the list of identity cards that would be allowed under a restrictive new mandated photo IDs to vote, it was discovered that most institutions of higher learning did not include one of the requirements on IDs they issued to students: an expiration date. Now, according to the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group, said 141 of 156 schools recently surveyed meet the law’s requirements or "are taking steps that will get them there by Election Day."
  • Florida loses bid to toss out challenge to federal court suit:
    A U.S. district court judge ruled Tuesday that two state residents and the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund could proceed with their lawsuit against Florida Gov. Rick Scott over his efforts to purge non-citizens from voter registration rolls. The legal change, the plaintiffs argue, falls under "pre-clearance" rules mandated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law requires 16 jurisdictions—whole states and counties within some states—to submit major changes in voting laws for review the U.S. Department of Justice because of past discriminatory practices under Jim Crow laws designed to keep African Americans from casting ballots.
  • Registration deadlines coming up:
    Today, Sept. 22, is the deadline for election officials to send ballots to military service personnel and civilians living overseas under the federal Uniformed Overseas Absentee Voting Act and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.

    —Oct. 2: This is the deadline for Judge Robert Simpson to conclude his revisiting of his decision upholding Pennsylvania's voter-ID law.

    —Oct. 6: This is the last date that voters in Mississippi and Nevada can register.

    —Oct. 9: This is the voter registration deadline in 13 states, including Colorado, Florida and Ohio, all battleground states in the presidential race.

    —Oct. 15: This is the registration deadline in Virginia, one of the most hotly contested states in the presidential race.

  • National Voter Registration Day is Monday, Sept. 25:
    The National Association of Secretaries of State has established September as National Voter Registration Month and set aside Sept. 25 as National Voter Registration Day. This was originally created by an ad hoc group that includes the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Education Fund, Bus Federation Civic Fund, Fair Elections Legal Network, League of Women Voters, Nonprofit Vote and Voto Latino.
  • States add on-line voter registration:
    California, Maryland and New York have set up on-line voter registration. An on-line system that had operated in a few counties in Nevada has now been extended to the rest of the state. Since the on-line option was added in New York last month, 9,716 citizens had registered there by Sept. 19. In California, the on-line registration takes about five minutes if you have a California driver's license or California identification card. If you don't, you must complete an on-line interview that takes another few minutes, print it and mail it by the Oct. 22 deadline. Information about voter registration for all states and D.C. can be found here.
  • Texas judge blocks purge of state voter rolls:
    On the grounds it may violate the Texas election code, state court Judge Tim Sulak issued a temporary injunction against Secretary of State Hope Andrade, a Republican, from ordering election officials to remove presumably dead voters from the rolls. The injunction was spurred by four voters who sued because they were told they would be removed from the rolls because officials considered them dead.

    Before the injunction was issued, Andrade reached a deal with Harris County voter registrar Don Sumners, who had refused to remove about 10,000 names from the voter rolls that Andrade had determined were deceased based on Social Security records. Sumners had found at least 300 names on the purge list who were alive and refused to remove anybody from the rolls as a result. Andrade agreed to restore funding that had been withheld over the dispute if Sumners would agree to remove names after families confirmed voter deaths.

    In one case, a pistol-packing investigator from the Texas attorney general's officer knocked on the door of a voter and informed her she was deceased. She got things straightened out, but:

    "The more I thought about it, the more I became angry because of the fact that I have always been a law-abiding citizen," she said. "I have always voted and for someone to come to my home from the criminal investigation division of the attorney general, it was like I had done something truly, truly wrong."
    She said she will, on the first day of early voting, show up to make sure she's on the rolls, alive.
  • Denver official sues over secretary of state's mailed ballot ban:
    Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson has sued Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler over a rule from his office that prohibits ballots from being mailed to inactive voters in city and school board elections. In papers filed with the court, Johnson says Gessler's move "infringes on Denver's status as a home rule city and county."
    We believe that the secretary of state is overstepping his authority by trying to control who gets ballots in local municipal elections, she said. "The Colorado Constitution and Denver City Charter make it clear municipal elections in the City and County of Denver are regulated at the local level and that the clerk and recorder has exclusive authority to conduct municipal elections.
    Johnson and Gessler are already embroiled in another lawsuit over a ban on mailing ballots to citizens who failed to vote in the last statewide election.
  • Bullets and ballots issue settled in Indiana:
    Indiana forbids local jurisdictions from setting their own more restrictive firearms rules. The law, passed in 2011, overrides local laws that prevent legal gun owners from carrying firearms into public spaces such as libraries, city halls and fire stations. Courthouses and schools can still bar firearms. But not polling places.

    The author of the law, State Sen. Jim Tomes, a Republican, was upset over local ordinances that allowed people to be turned away from the polls if they were carrying a firearm that was seen by pollworkers. The law did not, however, always work. When Clay Edinger, a retired Marine and Iraq War veteran, showed up at the polls in 2011 and tried to vote, he was turned away because he had holstered handgun in plain view.

    Tomes said, “Some people imagined that we were going to have people shooting up libraries and parks and that just hasn’t happened.” Asked whether he thinks the law should be amended to exclude polling places from state pre-emption, he said, “Absolutely not.”

  • True the Vote seeks to suppress the vote:
    Mariah Blake at The Atlantic tells the story of True the Vote, an organization that wants to pick up where the Republican National Committee left off 30 years ago after being "accused of violating the Voting Rights Act and ordered to cease its 'ballot security' efforts." Among them are the King Street Patriots, a tea party off-shoot in Houston that gathered the day before early voting began in 2010 and made its plans:
    The next day, King Street Patriots—many of them aging white suburbanites—poured into polling places in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods around Houston, looking for signs of voter fraud. Reports of problems at the polls soon began surfacing in the Harris County attorney’s office and on the local news. The focus of these reports was not fraud, however, but alleged voter intimidation. Among other things, poll observers were accused of hovering over voters, blocking lines of people who were trying to cast ballots, and, in the words of Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke, “getting into election workers’ faces.”
  • Fourteen in Congress push law countering restrictive voter-ID mandates:
    Rep. Rick Larsen, a Washington Democrat, has introduced the “America Votes Act of 2012,” which he and other Democrats hope will counter the wave of new voter ID legislation passed by Republican-led legislatures across the country.

    The bill would allow voters to sign a sworn affidavit to prove their identity in lieu of providing government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport. The voter would then be able to cast a standard ballot and not a provisional ballot, the latter of which can be contested or thrown out for any number of procedural reasons under current voting ID laws

  • Ohio's Husted wants strict voter-ID law:
    In a leaked audiotape at a meeting with tea party members in Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted said:
    I was listening to a show one night about these onerous photo ID rules in Ohio. Well, the photo ID law in Ohio is not onerous. As a matter of fact, I suspect the GA [General Assembly] will take up a more strict version of what we have after this election process.
    He added that he expects the current system to streamlined to disallow many IDs currently allowed at the polls. The position Husted apparently is taking now contradicts his previous stance:
    “I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters’ ballots from counting.”
    That point of view, a break with the views of several leaders in his party, was one reason the legislators did not pass a voter-ID law in 2011.
  • Ohio panel says Republicans may have broken election law with false literature:
    The Ohio Elections Commission voted 4-0 Thursday to hold a full hearing Oct. 4 on whether the GOP violated the state's election law forbidding the use of lies to influence ballot issues. If Issue 2 on the ballot passes, it would establish a citizens redistricting commission. Republicans oppose the initiative and mailed out flyers stating that the commission members "will be chosen in secret." That is false.
  • Rick Hasen on his new book, The Voting Wars:
    Click on the title link for a 36-minute interview at the Brennan Center for Justice with Hasen, a nationally-recognized expert in election law and campaign finance regulation, co-author of a leading casebook on election law, UC-Irvine law professor and proprietor of Election Law Blog.
  • Report explains voting rights to people under foreclosure:
    The Fair Elections Legal Network has released a report “Lose Your Home, Keep Your Vote: How to Protect Voters Caught Up in Foreclosure.”
    The report highlights the confusion victims of foreclosure may face when determining how they can cast a ballot this November and lays out practical answers for election officials and voters on how to protect their right to vote. [...]

    This report, along with state guides for 15 states most impacted by the foreclosure crisis, provides clarity for those facing foreclosure and organizations that work with these voters.

  • Rev. Joseph Lowery Inspires Clark Atlanta Students to Fight Voter Suppression and Vote
  • The Unnecessary Back-and-Forth of the Voter ID Laws
  • Greg Palast: The progressive—and often controversial—journalist says he’s fighting to protect your vote.
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