First up was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's hearing of oral arguments Thursday in an appeal over the state's restrictive voter-ID law. The court didn't say when a ruling will be issued, but observers expect it by the end of September.
The appeal comes from individual plaintiffs as well as the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. In a surprising ruling Aug. 15, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson upheld the voter-ID law that critics and the plaintiffs charged with being discriminatory against the elderly, young voters and minorities. His opinion on the case rested heavily on the state supreme court's 1869 ruling in favor of a law creating two classes of voters in Pennsylvania. You can read about the supporters of the plaintiffs in the voter-ID case here.
Experts have said that from 758,000 to 1.6 million Pennsylvanians might be disenfranchised because they don't have the form of ID the new law requires. Judge Simpson cast those concerns aside.
Ari Berman at The Nation reported that the Supreme Court heading played to a "standing-room-only courtroom" Thursday.
[David Gersch, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs] asked, once again, for an injunction against the law based on three major points: (a) “the right to vote is a fundamental right” harmed by the law; (b) the voter ID law was not a mere election regulation but something far more significant and burdensome; and (c) the law was not narrowly tailored toward its legislative goal of stopping voter fraud.Gersch said: “The vice is not in requiring photo ID. The vice is requiring a photo ID that not everyone has and has trouble getting.”
Toward that end, Gersch offered three major facts that are central to the case: (1) Pennsylvania has already admitted in court filings that there is no evidence of in-person voter impersonation that a voter ID law would stop; (2) that hundreds of thousands of registered Pennsylvania voters do not have the new voter ID; and (3) that many of these registered voters without voter ID will have difficulty obtaining an ID, either because they can’t get, or afford, the underlying documents, like a birth certificate, needed to receive a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) ID or can’t easily make it to a PennDOT office, which have limited hours and locations.
The court is split evenly, with three Democrats and three Republicans because the fourth Republican was suspended several months ago on charges of corruption. If it were to rule the case 3-3, the Simpson decision would stand. The Democrats asked a lot of questions. With the exception of Justice Robert Saylor, the Republicans did not. Saylor questioned attorneys for the state regarding whether the law guarantees everyone will be able to get the proper ID or at least be able to cast a ballot. They said yes. But plaintiffs' attorneys disagreed.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who overturned the GOP’s redistricting plans and is thought to be the swing justice on the court, stayed mostly silent and appeared irritated, at times, with the outspoken Democrats. “We got three votes but that doesn’t help us,” Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, told me after the hearing. “We need a fourth.”(Continue reading about the war on voting below the fold.)
In other War on Voting news
- Polk County judge lets voter lawsuit go forward in Iowa:
Republican Secretary of State Mark Schultz had argued that groups opposing his imposition of "emergency" voter-purging rules put together without citizen input had no standing in court. District Judge Mary Pat Gunderson said no dice. The American Civil Liberties Union and League of United Latin American Citizens, she said, do have legal standing to challenge the rules. The two groups have filed a lawsuit to block Iowa Schultz from enacting the rules. These would allow Schultz to begin a process to purge certain voters from Iowa's voter registration list and make it easier to report fraud.
“We’re heartened that the case will proceed, because this is an issue of great importance to voters in this state,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa Legislative Director. “The Secretary exceeded his power. He's using unreliable information to target registered voters."
"Iowa has a strong and proud history of free and fair elections,” Bettis said. “We all believe that only eligible, qualified Iowans should be voting. But that's not all we believe. We also believe that every eligible, qualified Iowan should be free to exercise this most profound right of citizenship."
- Voters without photo IDs turned away in New Hampshire primary:
In what was meant to be a test run for the Nov. 6 election, there were a few glitches at the polls in New Hampshire's Tuesday primary. For the last time, all that was required to cast a ballot was for voters to assert that they were who they said they were. Voters were supposed to be informed that they would need a photo ID in the November election to comply with the state's restrictive new law. Instead, however, some poll workers told voters without photo IDs they could not vote in the primary. That's not even supposed to happen in the general election.
In November, voters will need a photo ID or be required to swear on an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are. Some officials jumped the gun and required voters without a photo ID to sign an affidavit Tuesday.
Seven different kinds of photo ID will be allowed in November. Come 2013, only four will be.
- Florida and Colorado end their voter purges:
After once claiming the state has as many as 180,000 non-citizens on the rolls who should be removed, Florida gave up its purge this week in a settlement with a group that had sued over the matter. The state actually found that possibly 207 non-citizens were registered to vote. In Colorado, possibly as many as 141 non-citizens were found on the rolls.
Critics had warned that the hastily run efforts right before an election would act as a dragnet drawing in many eligible voters, and that is exactly what happened in both states.
Florida will now send thousands of corrective letters to voters who received letters from the state threatening they would be removed from the rolls if they didn't quickly prove their citizenship. Secretary of State Scott Gessler has not said whether he will notify some 4,000 voters there that they are no longer at risk of having their names purged from the registration rolls.
- Study: Young people of color will be disenfranchised by voter-ID photo laws:
A study conducted by Cathy Cohen and Jon Rogowski from the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively, has found that up to 696,000 Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, American Indians and Pacific Islanders may not be able to vote because of restrictive new laws requiring IDs with photos to be presented before a person can vote. The study was conducted for the Black Youth Project's Mobilization: Change and Political & Civic Engagement project. Previous studies have shown that minorities are much less likely to have photo IDs that white people and that low-income and young people are also less likely to have such IDs:
Across the country, at least 16 competitive House races have photo identification requirements that will likely disproportionately impact minority voters.
- Voter advocates say lack of money hurts registration efforts:
With the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now out of the picture, and budgets for other voter advocacy groups lower than previously, registering new voters is harder this year:
Caitlin Baggott, the executive director of the Bus Project Foundation, a smaller non-partisan group that seeks to engage young people in politics, and whose work includes registering young voters in Oregon, described “non-profit organizations and community groups [as] scrap[ing] together meager funds to register what truly ends up being a drop in the bucket [among younger] voters each election cycle, while literally millions of Americans are eligible to vote but don’t know how, where, or when to register or vote in an election.” That system, she said, “is fundamentally broken and unsustainable for the health of our democracy.”
In 2008, for example, Project Vote had a budget of $18 million for voter registration. For this election cycle, it has $2 million.
- Virginia will speed up felons' applications for restoration of civil rights:
In Virginia, felons are can't vote, hold public office or serve on juries unless the governor restores those civil rights. While the state has pledged to step up its efforts to clear restoration applications quickly in the past two years, the process still takes too long. Now, thanks to pressure from the Advancement Project, Janet Kelly, the secretary of the commonwealth, has announced that it is adding staff to ensure that complete applications that were received by Aug. 15 will receive priority, and a decision will be rendered in time for applicants to register to vote for the Nov. 6 election. The registration deadline is Oct. 15.
Kelly said she has assigned a full-time staff member to help with the applications as well as two part-time staffers to help handle phone calls.