The biggest news this week came Tuesday when Republican Judge Robert Simpson, under pressure from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, blocked the most important part of the state's much-disputed voter-ID law.
Simpson did not overturn the whole law (or his previous decision in the matter). In fact, the law is still valid. But for the November election, even though poll workers can ask for one of the few approved forms of ID, Pennsylvanians without one will be allowed to vote just like any other citizen. Before the ruling, they would have only been allowed to cast a provisional ballot. The court will further examine the law after the election.
Although a news agency reported that Republican Gov. Tom Corbett would not appeal the law to the state supreme court, and I repeated that report here, so far he has only said he is leaning in the direction of not appealing the ruling. One reason behind the reluctance to do so is no doubt the previous ruling by the high court that vacated the original decision by Judge Simpson. The wording of that ruling would seem to make any appeal unlikely of success.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican legislator who pushed the law into existence isn't too happy. The judge's decision, Metcalfe said, "is skewed in favor of the lazy, who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the common-sense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID."
Pennsylvania has the strictest new voter-ID law in the country, but it is only one 15 states that have tightened their ID restrictions since 2008. Courts have approved the laws of three states—New Hampshire, Indiana and Georgia. In addition to Pennsylvania, court rulings or other legal action have at least temporarily blocked the laws in Texas, Wisconsin, Mississippi and South Carolina, although a federal court could change the situation depending on its ruling in the last case.
The laws, all of which were passed in GOP-dominated legislatures, place a discriminatory burden on the poor, minorities, the elderly and other citizens who vote heavily Democratic.
Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice, the nation's largest non-partisan source of voting rights research, said: “Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened. It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws.”
However, said Penda D. Hair, a co-director of the Advancement Project, one of several groups that challenged the law Pennsylvania law:
“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls, and this could cause confusion. This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for the law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy.”
What effect will that have on people standing on line, who see those in front of them asked to produce something that they themselves might not be carrying? And Pennsylvania has an obligation now to make sure that all of the people who’ve been admonished to get their photo on a card now know that they don’t have to. No state, and no country, is better off for reducing civic participation—we have, if anything, an extra interest in making sure that the people least likely to keep waiting in a long line do so. A person who has spoken by voting is more likely to listen.The Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Working America, the Voter ID Coalition and other groups that have been engaged in get-out-the-vote efforts, including informing citizens about the voter-ID requirements, have not packed up their operations. The Voter ID Coalition, comprising 140 civic, educational, legal, community and religious groups, will be retooling their door-hangers and other materials with the idea that while voter-ID will not be required this time, next time it will.
In addition, said Ellen Mattleman Kaplan, vice president of the Committee of Seventy, a century-old good-government group in Philadelphia, Simpson's ruling didn't change things for first-time voters or people voting for the first time in a new district. An older law already requires such citizens to show ID.
(Continue reading about voter suppression below the fold.)
In other news on the War on Voting
- Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds early voting hours in Ohio, but...:
The Obama campaign and Democratic National Committee have won a battle that could help boost voter turnout in Ohio by making it easier for the state's citizens to cast ballots. A ruling by a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court decision overturning the state legislature's canceling of three days of early voting immediately before the election.
However, the panel left it up to the county election boards about whether to open the polls for early voting on any or all of those days. Secretary of State John Husted, who holds the tie-breaking vote on the two-Democrats/two Republicans boards could choose to vote no if the board members split on partisan lines, as was thecase early this year in some heavily Democratic counties.
The GOP-dominated Ohio state legislature didn't like the results of the 2008 election, which went too Democratic for them at the top of the ticket and for two congressional seats they thought they should have won. As a result, they chose to lop off the three days of early voting right before the election.
Thousands of voters who might not otherwise have voted cast ballots on those days, especially on the Sunday right before the election. Those voters, a large percentage of them African Americans and low-income people who have difficulty getting to the polls on Tuesday, voted heavily Democratic.
The court said, “The state must show that its decision to reduce the early voting time for non-military voters is justified by a ‘sufficiently weighty’ interest. The state has proposed no interest which would justify reducing the opportunity to vote by a considerable segment of the voting population.”Husted could appeal to the full Sixth Circuit. And, as Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog explains, he would likely get a reversal if he chose that route. The Sixth Circuit has been deeply split along partisan lines over election issues and there are more Republicans on the court than Democrats.
[Husted] has argued in part that the reduced voting hours were necessary to address the needs of the Ohio elections board as it prepared for Election Day. The state also claimed that military service members and their families had unique challenges when it came to voting so that in-person early voting should be extended to them, but not to other Ohio voters.
For now, however, it adds another notch to the belt of voter advocates who have fought early-voting restrictions, strict photo-ID requirements as impediments to voting by minorities, young people and the elderly.
- See the Daily Kos account of the Mississippi victory here.
- Riverside County, California, Democrats claim Republican registration fraud:
Fewer and fewer Californians are registered as Republicans. Only 31 of the state's 58 counties have a Republican plurality, and those are mostly in lower-population regions like the state's conservative Central Valley. Only a single county has an actual Republican registration majority. But Democrats in Riverside County say a GOP voter outreach campaign has engaged in fraud to give the county GOP a 51,000 voter-registration edge.
A complaint filed with the county registrar alleges 133 Democratic voters were re-registered as Democrats without their consent by petition circulators outside stores and welfare offices. One claimed his voter registration was changed when he signed what he thought was a petition to legalize marijuana. Others were offered a "job at the polls" or other bribes to sign paperwork that changed their registration from one party to the other.
Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the Democratic Party’s voter registration efforts, said Republican signature collectors might have improperly re-registered thousands of Riverside County Democrats. Maviglio blamed a GOP registration committee, the Golden State Voter Participation Project.
A Republican spokeswoman said there is no advantage to doing what is alleged and that the group has strict "zero tolerance" rules in place about such matters. But being able to show large numbers of recently registered Republicans could be attractive to campaign donors who might see local and congressional races as more winnable.
- N.H. Republicans trying to block student vote, says Bill Clinton:
The former president said some students may think the election doesn't matter, but "Republicans in New Hampshire think it matters—that's why they've worked so hard to keep you from voting."Even since the 18-year-old vote was enacted in 1971, Republicans have sought to keep students from voting in their college towns. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that students have the right to vote where they attend school even if they are not permanent residents of the state and don't intend to be. The ruling has not stopped all kinds of shenanigans directed at undermining that right.
The GOP-dominated state New Hampshire legislature overrode the Democratic governor's veto this year to pass a law requiring all new voters to sign a statement acknowledging that they are subject to laws requiring drivers to register cars and get a New Hampshire driver's license. Because of the 33-year-old Supreme Court ruling, the state can't require students to be residents but the implication of the statement is that they are subject to all state laws. The issue is tied up in the courts and may not be resolved until after the Nov. 6 election. Last week, a state judge ordered that this statement be removed from voter forms:
“In declaring New Hampshire as my domicile, I am subject to the laws of the state of New Hampshire which apply to all residents, including laws requiring a driver to register a motor vehicle and apply for a New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of becoming a resident.”State officials have appealed the order to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The Obama campaign has been actively urging students to register to vote in New Hampshire, where the margin in the presidential contest could be close.
- Romney consultant's voter-registration operations bend toward sleazy:
Nathan Sproul's Strategic Allied Consulting got fired by the Republican National Committee and several state Republican parties last week after apparently fraudulent voter-registration forms were discovered in a Florida county. The forms came from people working for SAC. At least 10 of the state's counties have since discovered SAC-submitted forms with phony information, many of them flagrant forgeries. False addresses have been used and party affiliations have been changed.
Florida law enforcement is looking into the allegations of voter-registration fraud, which could be the foundation for election fraud. Since the Florida forms came to light, two other states, Colorado and Nevada, have found phony registration on forms originating with Sproul's operations.
It is obvious now that the firm knew fraudulent forms were being filled out in August, long before a SAC attorney said this week that the recent revelations of bad forms were the first instance of this occurring.
Stephanie Saul of The New York Times was unsuccessful at gaining an interview with Sproul, but that didn't stop her from explaining how his operations—using several names—have been paid $17.6 million by Republican committees, candidates and the Karl Rove-founded Super PAC, American Crossroads, mostly for voter-registration efforts.
Sproul's operations have come under investigation before, dating back to 2004. Among the accusations has been the dumping of Democratic Party registrations. That and other allegations have been denied. The claim is made that with so many low-paid seasonal workers on the payroll, even the most rigorous background check won't weed out all the potential bad actors. But the fraud issues seem to fit a pattern:
In Nevada, a complaint filed last month with the secretary of state’s office alleged that a woman, Cathy Sue Yancey, was told to tear up a form in which she registered as a Democrat and fill out another one without marking her party affiliation. [...]None of the investigations against Sproul's operations have led to charges being filed.
The election forms were traced to a Sproul operation. Similar allegations prompted an investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice in 2004. [...]
Around the same time, officials at a library in Pittsburgh complained that Mr. Sproul’s company had used false pretenses — claiming to represent the nonpartisan America Votes — to get permission to set up a voter registration desk outside their building. It was only after visitors began to complain that the library learned that the canvassers represented the Republican Party.
- In a full-page ad, billionaire vows a million for voter rights:
Mega-rich William Louis-Dreyfus, who once ran the commodity trading firm Louis-Dreyfus Global founded by his great-great-grandfather, announced in a full-page ad in The New York Times that he will contribute a million dollars to protect voting rights. He asked others to join him in supporting non-partisan voter advocacy groups. You can read the text of the ad here.
Louis-Dreyfus explained his outrage to a reporter here.
His daughter, Julia, played Elaine in the television show "Seinfeld." She now plays the title character, Selina Meyer, in "Veep.
- The Daily Show took another hilarious whack at voter suppression.
- Fearing voting suppression, U.S. minority churches use "souls to polls" to register, rally voters:
Church leaders are distributing voter registration cards in the middle of services, and many are pledging caravans of “souls to the polls” to deliver the vote in a close race between President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Activists worry that new election rules in some states, from tougher photo identification requirements to fewer days of early voting, are unfairly targeting minority voters — specifically African-Americans who tend to vote heavily for Democrats.
“It has ignited a sense of urgency and collective power that we can take by engaging in the process,” said the Rev. Dawn Riley Duval, social justice minister at the Shorter Community A.M.E. Church in Denver.
- GOP video trains "poll challengers" in illegal voter suppression techniques: New Mexico's voter-ID law will not take effect until 2014 but a hidden camera nabbed Pat Morlen, the vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party, teaching volunteers to demand photo IDs. Those without they are told to make vote on provisional ballots. Completely outside the law for this election cycle. The video was filmed by ProgressNow New Mexico and shows Morlen making additional bogus assertions.
What's worse is that Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican representing the state's 2nd District, is down with the illegal tactic.
“We’re simply saying that we’re going to start, we’re going to take it back it into our hands,” said Pearce. “We should check for ID since you have to show an ID to do anything in America.”
He did, however, admit that doing so would be against the law. “It’s against New Mexico law to check for ID,” the congressman conceded.
- With Pennsylvania resolved for now, the voter-ID focus moves to South Carolina: South Carolina is one of the states that has added a voter-ID law since 2008, and it is now home to the only remaining unresolved legal challenge to be ruled on before the Nov. 6 election.
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, South Carolina is one of 16 states or parts of states that must submit any major voting law change for "pre-clearance" to the federal government. The Department of Justice refused to pre-clear South Carolina's change and the state sued in February. Late last month, a federal court spent a week listening to testimony regarding the law. It is expected to issue its decision well before the Nov. 6 election.
- Here is a map showing showing voter-ID laws by state.
- Minnesota Republicans challenge statements by Democratic secretary of state on proposed voter ID law:
Two GOP state senators say the Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat who opposes a proposed voter-ID amendment to the state constitution, has misled citizens while using his office improperly to oppose the measure. They also say he has falsely characterized the law in his arguments against its passage. Minnesotans will vote on the amendment in the Nov. 6 election.
Ritchie said he does not comment on pending litigation, but noted in a statement Thursday: "I continue to work closely with local elections officials to ensure that the 2012 General Election is efficient and accurate."
- Tennessee attorney appeals ruling approving state voter-ID law:
A state judge rejected civil rights attorney George Barrett's objections to the requirement for voters to present a government-issued photo-ID at the polls. He has made an emergency appeal to get the case heard by Oct. 12 because early voting begins Oct. 17. He has called the law “an unconstitutional impediment on the right to vote.”
- Judge approves Florida's revamped voter purge:
A South Florida judge ruled Thursday that the state did not violate federal law by conducting a non-citizen voter purge within 90 days of a federal election.
In a 24-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Zloch wrote that the state had a compelling interest to protect the voter rolls and denied a request by a coalition of voting groups to stop the purge of 198 voters whose citizenship was in question.
••• ••• •••
- The roots of voter suppression by Ron Carver:
When I hear conservatives like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason, and Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai try to rationalize their bid to disenfranchise minority, elderly and student voters, I pivot quickly to memories of the terror I witnessed in the early 1960s.
At that time, just out of high school, I joined the Southern civil rights movement's efforts to register hundreds of thousands of black Mississippians.
Ninety-five years after the 15th Amendment affirmed the right of black people to vote, I stood with 30 African Americans in the rotunda of the DeSoto County, Miss., courthouse. Lit cigarettes rained down on us from the second story balcony, courtesy of a dozen sheriff's deputies and highway patrolmen. Trying to keep everyone's spirits up, Menk Dockery strode over to take a sip from the "Whites Only" water fountain and declared, "This freedom water sure is fine."
- Despite recent defeats, right will keep pushing voter suppression laws by David Dayen
- Attack on Voting Rights Isn’t Racist—Just Ask Artur Davis by Brentin Mock:
When Artur Davis took the stage at the True the Vote national summit in Houston earlier this year, the audience, almost all of whom were white tea partiers, went wild. Davis flattered the group, thanking them for coming out when they could’ve been at home watching the NFL draft. But the crowd was plenty excited to see their own star draftee: a Southern black politician who had come to confirm that their agenda is not racist.
“This is not a billy club,” he told the audience, waving his drivers license. “My mother, my father and grandfather were raised on the banks of the Alabama River, at the turn of 20th century. They can tell you what a billy club was and it’s not this. This is not a firehose. I’m from Birmingham, Ala. I used to count on a lot of senior citizens to work the polls for me. I used to organize a lot of my elections. They can tell you what a water hose is. This is not Jim Crow.”
- Partisan judges rule partisanly on voter suppression cases by Maya Wiley:
[C]onsider this — For much of the past year, the debate hasn't been in the legislatures. Rather, they've been in courthouses. Less examined is the extent to which the rulings in these cases have been partisan and what that says about the state of our democracy.
There have been a dozen or so challenges to various forms of voter suppression laws in key states this election year - Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, to name a few. Of the pro-voter cases in those four swing states, nine judges who voted to protect the right to vote were appointed by Democratic administrations; four were appointed by Republican administrations. The only "block the box" rulings came from Republican-appointed or Republican-identified judges.
- Voter suppression by Republican contract firms undeniable by Vanzetta Penn McPherson
Just as bank robberies — even a string of them — are a poor substitute for systematic embezzlement, ID fraud is useless as a tool of consequence. As the Republicans and their operatives — mainly Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm which the Republican National Committee paid $3 million for voter registration drives — amply demonstrated, real voter fraud is a planned, adroitly executed monster, with tentacles in several places that attack the entire system at its core.
- Judge Simpson rescues Republicans from their own craziness by relaxing voter-ID law temporarily by Francis Wilkinson:
It took a dose of truly bug-eyed insanity for Republicans, whose brand is not in great shape to begin with, to launch a voting-rights war in which minority voters would be the obvious casualties. As former Florida governor Jeb Bush and other voices of reason have pointed out, there is not a great future in the U.S. for an all-white political party. Yet it's hard to imagine a better way to galvanize the nation's emerging multiracial majority into long-term opposition than to set up roadblocks to their right to vote. (Well, it could be worse. You could be caught on tape explaining that the purpose of the restrictions is to help Republicans win.)