Abby Rapoport’s “Defenders of the Vote” in The American Prospect provides an encouraging look at the popular uprising against Republican voter suppression in Pennsylvania. As Rapoport sets the scene:
…In March, the state became one of 11 whose Republican majorities have passed voter-ID laws so restrictive they’ve raised worries about disenfranchisement. Pennsylvania, which makes the IDs unusually difficult to attain, could end up disqualifying more voters in November than any other.
…In July, the secretary’s office revealed numbers that were dramatically higher: More than 750,000, or 9 percent of registered voters, have no photo IDs from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the most common and accepted form of necessary identification. While nobody knows the actual number, independent studies have yielded estimates of more than a million voters.
…In Philadelphia alone, 180,000 registered voters lack a PennDOT ID. At least another 150,000 have IDs that will, by November 6, be more than a year past their expiration dates–and therefore unacceptable. It all adds up to more than 30 percent of the city’s voters.
…In case anyone believed that Republicans were moved to pass the law to protect the “sanctity of elections,” as they insist, Pennsylvania’s House majority leader, Mike Turzai, let the truth be known in June. Turzai boasted to a GOP state gathering that voter ID would “allow Governor Romney to win the state.”
But Pennsylvania activists are setting the standard for organized resistance to Republican voter suppression, as Rapoport writes:
Welcome to the world of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, made up of 140 organizations–churches, labor unions, civic groups–which began training volunteers in July. The group’s job is to let voters know that, thanks to a law passed in March, they will have to carry a government-issued picture ID to the polls to ensure that their vote counts. The coalition will also help voters who lack the proper ID to acquire one–a process that is, in some cases, time-consuming and complicated.
Most of the controversy over the law has focused on its political impact: Will it give Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney an edge in Pennsylvania, since the law overwhelmingly affects African Americans, students, the elderly, and low-income voters who mostly vote Democratic?
But the coalition, which prominently plasters “Non-Partisan” on banners all over the office, is concerned with something larger. “The greatest fear would be that people are disenfranchised, become discouraged, throw their hands up and say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about this, voting doesn’t matter anyways,'” says lead organizer Joe Certaine, a prominent voting-rights activist and the former managing director of Philadelphia, the city’s second-most powerful office.
Rapoport paints a vivid picture of the resistance coalition’s voter i.d. training session, which reveals the obstacles being thrown up to discourage voters and their determination to over come them. Yet, as Rapoport concludes, “No matter how many Pennsylvanians the Voter ID Coalition manages to help, Election Day 2012 could still be a nightmare unless the courts halt the law’s implementation.”
As for the likely ruling on the voter i.d. law by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, David Gambacorta reports at philly.com,
Justices Seamus McCaffery and Debra McCloskey Todd, both Democrats, wondered aloud why the law couldn’t be implemented over several years, instead of just before the election.
Justice Michael Eakin, a Republican, underscored the value of the law, noting that fraud has existed since George Washington.
So . . . now what?
* Voter ID is probably here to stay. The justices, who are split evenly – three Democrats, three Republicans – are expected to issue a ruling soon.
“I’m inclined to think it’s an uphill climb to get an injunction,” said Temple University law professor Mark Rahdert. “Once a lower court rules against the challengers, it sets all the machinery of justice against getting that decision overturned.”
Zack Stalberg, president of the good-government group the Committee of Seventy, said that Simpson’s ruling, coupled with the Supreme Court’s even political split, “adds up to there being a good chance that it will be upheld.”
Unless, of course . . .
* Something unexpected happens. “We have turned back similar laws in multiple states across this country . . . from Wisconsin to Minnesota to North Carolina to Texas,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said after Thursday’s hearing. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Drexel University political science professor Bill Rosenberg said it’s possible that the case could “get taken into the federal court system, away from the politics of Pennsylvania.”
With that uncertain prospect looming over the election, the outcome of the presidential election in PA — and possibly the nation — may depend on the sustained commitment of the Pennsylvania Voter I.D. Coalition.