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Carol Aichele, secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Carol Aichele
Pennsylvania's tough new voter ID law spent several days under court scrutiny this week and last. The judge in the case says he will issue his ruling on Aug. 13 or later.

The law is being challenged by the Advancement Project and the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that it adversely and disproportionately affects people of color, young voters, older voters and those with low incomes. Among those testifying was Kurt Myers, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).

[He] testified that he has known all along that many people can’t get photo ID, because applicants are frequently turned away for not having the underlying documentation. He also said PennDOT has no process to issue anywhere close to 750,000 photo ID cards to cover voters who need one—or close to even 10,000 cards. Myers also acknowledged that the Department is not hiring any additional staff, nor extending any hours, despite more than one million voters who lack ID.
During testimony, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the commonwealth, Carol Aichele, responded to a question about the photo ID law with “I don’t know what the law says.”

At Politics PA, Managing Editor Keegan gives us a comprehensive district-by-district rundown of where in Pennsylvania the lack of acceptable voter IDs could have the most and least impact. An AFL-CIO data team did much of the work using information from the state department of transportation and the department of state. Bottom Line: Nineteen of the 20 districts—congressional, state senate, state house—with the highest percentage of voters without PennDOT photo IDs are Democratic, most of them heavily so.

Democratic candidates are heavily favored to win these districts and some of them are guaranteed to do so regardless of how many voters are turned away for lack of acceptable ID because they are running unopposed. But the impact of having as much as 60 percent of voters without the right ID might change the results of statewide elections and Pennsylvania's margin in the presidential race.

As has been noted previously, large numbers of voters don't know that their IDs may have expired. Voters carrying an ID past its date of renewal will not be allowed to cast a regular ballot. This map shows the most heavily affected districts.

(For more of this week's news, continue reading below the fold).

In the News

  • U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa on Thursday in Galveston blocked five of eight provisions in a new Texas voter registration law. The lawsuit was brought by the registration group Voting for America, an arm of the nonpartisan, Washington-based Project Vote, and by two Galveston County residents.

    The ruling says the state may not require deputy voter registrars to live in Texas. The statute undermined efforts like those of Voting for America, which claimed it would block it from organizing voter-registration drives. The law, Judge Costa ruled, 1) may not prevent deputy registrars from registering voters who live outside their county; 2) prevent organizations from firing or promoting an employee based on the number of voters she or he registers; 3) prevent organizations from making photocopies of completed voter registration forms for their records; 4) or prevent deputy registrars from mailing completed applications.

    If the decision is appealed, it will be heard in the Fifth Circuit Court.

  • Ethan Bronner at The New York Times wrote that the partisan clash led Republicans and Democrats alike to fail to adopt most of the voter reforms recommended by the Carter-Baker Commission on voter participation in 2005. One of the key recommendations that has gained wide acceptability among Republicans is required all voters to have a photo ID. Democrats and many voter advocacy organizations reject that as a solution for a problem that barely exists—voter impersonation. 

    The real problem, according to Robert A. Pastor, the executive director of the Carter Baker Commission, is registration:

    Nearly every other advanced country maintains a national voter roll. In this country, which eschews a national identity card, there are 13,000 separate rolls maintained by counties, towns and municipalities. David Becker, director of election initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts, said his group’s research shows that 2.2 million votes were lost in 2008 as a result of voter registration difficulties.
  • Scott Horton made a pointed critique for Bronner's article. The problem, Horton wrote, was that The New York Times reporter boiled the issue down to a both-parties-do-it trope. 
    The problem, of course, is that the truth can’t be found by triangulating between Democrats and Republicans, so the story’s structure serves the interests of the Republicans—indeed, it implicitly legitimizes their tactics. In an interview on On Point, Bronner ultimately conceded the point under pressure, “It’s a little harsh to say that the only point of these things is to suppress voting for Democratic candidates,” he said, “but that clearly will be the effect.” Harsh? It’s not only the obvious truth, but one even Republicans can occasionally be caught admitting. Why should Bronner struggle so mightily to suppress it? And why does he seem to think it makes his writing more professional if he avoids “harsh” truth?
  • The Brennan Center for Justice has published a new report, Better Design, Better Elections. The report says there are simple moves officials can take between now and November fix design defects in ballots, voting machines and voter instructions. 

    This matters, according to Lawrence Norden, because "[d]esign defects in ballots, voter instructions, and voting machines contributed to the loss of several hundred thousand votes in the most recent national elections. In addition, in the 2008 and 2010 general elections combined, as many as 400,000 people had their absentee or provisional ballot rejected because they made technical mistakes completing forms or preparing and returning the envelope."

    In 2008, the center published another report, Better Ballots, which examined 13 typical ballot design problems. While some states have fixed these problems, many others have not.

  • Rush Limbaugh weighed in with his prescription for voter suppression.
  • At the Constitution Daily, a blog of the National Constitution Center, Lyle Denniston examines whether citizen advocates might be able to effectively challenge the legitimacy of a presidential candidate's victory based on charges of voter suppression, and if this would create a constitutional crisis.
  • A Republican candidate for supervisor in Pinal County, Arizona, has withdrawn from the contest after allegations arose over who applied for, and voted with, absentee ballots in the name of his "life-long companion" for five years after her Feb. 3, 2007, death. The name of John Enright, the man in question, will still appear on early-voting ballots for the Aug. 28 primary because they were printed a week ago.
  • Alabama seeks federal court's ruling that its redistricting plan does not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. States and counties within states must obtain pre-clearance of major voting changes under the act, which was passed because of wholesale discrimination at the polls against people because of their race. That mostly affected African Americans in the Jim Crow South, but some counties in Western states are also covered by the act because of discrimination against American Indians. 

    But, like South Carolina and Texas and a community in North Carolina, Alabama is also challenging the pre-clearance provision's constitutionality.

  • Democratic Rep. Corinne Brown is suing the State of Florida because of changes it has made in early voting hours. She claims this disproportionately affects black voters. In the 2008 election, 22 percent of early voters were African American, she said, even though they make up only 13 percent of the state's population. 

    Since the debacle of 2000, when thousands of voters were turned away from the polls, Florida has had 15 days of early voting. But this year, the Republican-led legislature switched this to 10 days. It also eliminated early voting on the Sunday before the election. In 2008, 34 percent of African Americans who cast ballots took advantage of early voting on the Sunday before the election.

  • Charles Blow suggests that the polls should be taken with even more grains of salt than usual this year because of the Great Suppression. Many would-be voters who support Democrats, he says, aren't aware that because of voter roll purges, voter ID requirements and other shenanigans, they may not be able to cast a ballot for the candidate they are telling pollsters they plan to vote for.
  • War on Voting posts at Daily Kos you may have missed this week:

    Author of right-wing voter fraud 'study' on probation for Jack Abramoff-connected fakery

    New voter ID laws would have their biggest impact in swing states, with Democrats the target

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Aug 04, 2012 at 08:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Pennsylvania.

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