No voter-ID ruling emerged from Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson Friday. Citizen advocates and other observers of the disputed law that imposes the strictest voter-ID provisions in the nation had thought he might issue a decision in the case before the weekend. The law requires voters to have a state-issued driver's or non-driver's license, a passport, a military ID, a student ID or a "last-resort" ID issued by the commonwealth's department of state in order to vote. All IDs must have photos and an expiration date. Originally, the law would have only permitted state-issued and military IDs to be used at the polls.
In a mid-August ruling, Simpson chose not to issue a preliminary injunction against the law. He said at the time that foes of the law "did an excellent job of 'putting a face' to those burdened by this new requirement," but he did not "have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses."
The plaintiffs appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After hearing both sides, four of the six justices decided to return the case to Simpson for further review, with an emphasis on the burdens placed on voters by the law. Their message was a not-so-subtle try-again-and-make-it-snappy. They gave him until Oct. 2 to complete his review. Two of the justices, however, both Democrats, dissented. They said there was no reason to return the case to the lower court because the evidence was clear and ample that the law was onerous in its effect and should be blocked for this election year.
During two days of hearings in Judge Robert Simpson's court this week, Pennsylvanians recounted the hassles they've had in obtaining mandated photo IDs.
On Thursday, some dozen witnesses testified that they had encountered many difficulties in obtaining IDs. Witnesses complained that obstacles included multiple visits, hours-long waits, trips to other bureaucracies to acquire documentation like Social Security cards and inadequate restroom facilities for the disabled at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation branch offices issuing IDs.
In court on Thursday, Doris Clark, 68, who uses a cane and doesn't drive, testified about her confusing and frustrating quest for ID. She recalled hours-long waits and government mistakes that forced her to make three trips to PennDOT, the state agency that issues the IDs, and two trips to the U.S. Social Security Administration, one source of the necessary documents to secure the ID.After essentially making a scene at the office, she finally got her ID. But only determined citizens would take all the steps she did. Every obstacle, critics have said, persuades a few voters to throw up their hands and not bother with getting the ID they need to vote. And that was the intent of Republican-dominated legislature that passed the law on a party-line vote.
On her third visit a PennDOT worker turned her down because her maiden name is on her birth certificate but her married name is on her Social Security documents.
While the hearings were under way, the state made its sixth change in the law since it was passed, streamlining the process for those citizens trying to obtain a "last-resort" alternative to the PennDOT-issued non-driver's license.
An attorney for the governor's office suggested Thursday in court that an idea posited by Judge Simpson to allow citizens without ID to cast a provisional ballot would solve any problems. But Witold Walczak, one of several lawyers for the plaintiffs, said it would make matters worse.
"It will create more confusion about what is required on Election Day, who can vote, how and under what circumstances are those (provisional) ballots counted or not counted?" Walczak said afterward.State officials say 12,000 new identity cards have been issued. Foes of the law say there may be three-quarters of a million to 1.6 million Pennsylvanians without the proper ID.
He likened Simpson's suggestion to judicial lawmaking and contended that continuing to broadcast the message that a photo ID is necessary to vote would cause people without one to stay home.
A Franklin & Marshall College Poll found 59 percent of Pennsylvanians support the voter ID law, while 39 percent oppose it.
(Read more voter suppression news below the fold.)
In other War on Voting news
- Romney-connected firm accused of voter fraud fired by two state GOP organizations:
The Republican Party of Florida and the Republican Party of North Carolina have fired a voter registration company owned by a paid consultant to Mitt Romney because Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher had found it had turned in 106 “questionable” registration applications. But suspect forms have now been found in 10 Florida counties.
The Florida party had paid the firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, $1.3 million in July and August, according to the Palm Beach Post. The Republican National Committee also severed ties with SAC. It has funneled $3.1 million to the firm through state organizations in Florida, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia, according to the Los Angeles Times.
SAC is owned by Nathan Sproul. Over the years his operations have been accused of altering information on Democratic voter registration forms in several states. The Florida Party hired SAC "at the request of" the RNC. Sproul's firms have previously run similar voter registration efforts for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, for McCain-Palin in 2008 and Romney since late last year.
Bucher asked the state attorney’s office to review the applications “in an abundance of caution” because she said her staff had questions about similar-looking signatures, missing information and wrong addresses on the forms.Most of the forms contained changes in the names of real voters and signatures not spelled the same way as applicants’ names. In addition, there were phony addresses, birthdates did not match the names and the forms had no Social Security numbers.
Said Santa Rosa County elections supervisor Ann W. Bodenstein: “It was that flagrant. In no way did they look genuine.”
- New study on Pennsylvania ID law shows deficiencies:
A new study based on visits to 44 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver's license offices found that most sites were doing a poor job of dealing with the state's new, highly restrictive voter-ID law. The law requires that Pennsylvanians have a photo ID and only a few types are accepted. For many citizens without a driver's license, a non-driver's photo ID can be obtained through PennDOT.
But some citizens don't have the necessary documentation to get one of the non-driver's licenses. As an alternative, the commonwealth introduced a department of state voter ID in August. But volunteers for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center PennDOT license centers in 35 counties had almost no information about the DOS ID. Signage was deficient or non-existent in many of the offices, and in some cases PennDOT staff steered voters away from the DOS ID and encouraged them to obtain a PennDOT ID instead. In almost 50 percent of the cases, PBPC said, staff gave out incomplete or inaccurate information to those seeking a DOS ID.
- Renewed Florida voter purge comes under legal challenge:
Voter advocacy organizations in Florida said Thursday that state officials had reneged on its previous promises to reduce its efforts to purge non-citizens from the voter rolls. They said the Republican-led administration was trying to intimidate voters.
Earlier this month, voting groups had dropped a legal challenge to a state purge of voter lists after Florida election officials said they had greatly reduced the number of potentially ineligible voters due to errors on an original list.
But on Wednesday, Department of State officials sent a new list of 198 names to county election supervisors culled from a Department of Homeland Security's database that tracks residency status.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court chooses not to review voter ID law, for now:
In a move that likely means Wisconsin voters will not be required by a new law to show ID at the polls in November, the state supreme court has declined to review lower court rulings that block implementation of the Republican-passed law. The court had earlier declined to take on two lower-court cases because final rulings had not been issued. This time it did so because it said it wanted to consider both cases together and the filing of briefs in one case has not yet occurred.
The NAACP has said it won't complete its brief before the Oct. 15 deadline. Given that two weeks is typically allowed for a response by the opposing side, the high court would be hard-pressed to hear and rule on the case in time for the Nov. 6 election. "It's a terrific victory for voter rights because it means almost certainly this disenfranchising law will not be in effect for the November election," said Rich Saks, an attorney for two groups that challenged the law.
- Foes of New Mexico voter purge say it will suppress minority turnout:
Critics of, Diana Duran, the secretary of state of New Mexico, have accused her of being part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to discourage minority citizens from casting ballots this year by challenging their eligibility in purges of the voter rolls. Texas, Florida, Ohio and Colorado have been in the forefront of these efforts, seeking to disqualify voters they claim are ineligible or dead. But voter advocates say the lists of the potentially ineligible are too broad and efforts disproportionately affect minority voters. State and federal courts have ordered the moves stopped in most cases.
Duran has mailed postcards to voters to obtain their addresses. Completely legal and seemingly reasonable.
But in New Mexico, while the postcard project is technically legal, its possible effects are anything but clear. Voting rights advocates say Duran's tactics come from a 21st century voter suppression tool kit, one in which subtlety, tenacity and knowledge of voter psychology have replaced violence, literacy tests and threats.It's partly the timing that has Duran's foes irked. One lawyer says some voters who receive the postcards and believe they aren't eligible to vote and shrug off the election this year. While the percentages who choose this route may be small, shaving away even a few thousand votes in swing states could have major impacts, both at the presidential level and down ticket.
- Nashville judge upholds Tennessee's voter ID law:
Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy ruled Wednesday that the state's new voter-ID law passes muster with the state constitution. An attorney for the plaintiffs argued that the law places an obstacle in the way of voting and that as many as 390,000 Tennesseans don't have a photo ID that meets the state's requirements. More than 100,000 of them are 60 years old or more. While upholding the constitutionality of the law, McCoy said she doesn't like it: "If it were left up to me, I'd strike the law down."
- Obama Accused Of Suppressing Military Vote By Withholding Absentee Ballots:
Talk radio host Roger Hedgecock falsely accuses Obama of trying to suppress the military vote. Bullshit charge doesn't stand up to even cursory investigation.
- Battle For Your Ballot to raise awareness of voter suppression: The non-partisan grassroots effort kicked into action by The brpr Group will work political activists, voters and prominent individuals such as hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to produce digital public service announcements targeted towards key battleground states. The first will be launched on Oct. 4, the day after the first presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
The series of PSAs will be hosted at Battle Ballot and distributed on Twitter at BattleBallot. The mobile website, www.BattleForYourBallot.com will include state-by-state information for voters "to keep them informed as to their rights as an employee on voting day and will provide them with the list of documents they will need in order to avoid issues at the polls on Election Day."
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- Real fraud not voters' ID, but GOP's fake solution by Eugene Robinson:
And this, really, is the issue. The problem in this country isn't too many people voting, it's too few. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder, and we shouldn't be imposing requirements that have the same effect as a poll tax.
- An excerpt from Greg Palast's brand new book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps:
Using a formula provided by the Brennan Center, we can calculate that 97,850 student voters were barred, turned away, blocked, challenged, or given provisional ballots (left uncounted) on recall Election Day in June. No US paper listed Wisconsin as a “swing” state that month. Well, it swung.
Altogether, the 2012 changes in Wisconsin law were sufficient alone to account for the victory of Republican Governor Scott Walker in staving off that recall vote in June 2012. Walker did have the popular support of $31 million (versus $4 million raised by his Democratic opponent).
- Proposed Minnesota voter-ID not so bad, says conservative:
Peter J. Nelson, director of public policy and associate general counsel at the right-wing Center of the American Experiment, white-washes the potential effects of the voter-ID ballot amendment Minnesotans will vote on in November. He calls Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's concerns overblown.
- Voter Suppression: An American Tradition by Frank Scott:
The nation’s origin, biblically taught as a patriarchal benediction by “founding fathers”, was essentially an organization to keep wealth in their hands and see to it that their peasants, servants and slaves remained worshipful of the fathers and mindful of their lower status. Despite this, desires for real freedom and democracy persisted, with enough people fighting for them to bring about great advances in the material status of the common people. But the power relationship of rulers to ruled has not changed, even if descendants of those peasants, servants and slaves now ride cars instead of horses or rent condos instead of hovels. At least in some cases.
- If America had compulsory voting, would Democrats win every election?:
Perhaps half of all those without identity cards were not likely to vote anyway, says Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College, a pollster and political sage. Among the rest of the population, the idea that Republicans are trying to suppress black and low-income votes has energised the Democratic base like “rocket fuel”, to quote the chairman of the state Democrats, Jim Burn. In short, the voter-ID law could end up being a net positive for the Democrats.