By refusing to block Pennsylvania’s callous and draconian voter ID law, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson has left the door open to voter suppression tactics that haven’t been used since the 1960s, when white southerners were finally shamed into doing the right thing after a horrified America watched footage of the police dogs and fire hoses used to keep Blacks and other undesirables away from the polls.
Progressives immediately went on a public relations rampage, vowing to fight on through appeals and every available legal avenue until some jurist with a conscience and sense of right and wrong nips this thing in the bud.
I hope they win on appeal, and not just because those most adversely affected by the law are minorities — but because the law is anti-American, and flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution, the document held above all others by the hypocrites who authored the voter ID law in the first place.
What could be more anti-American, more constitutionally incorrect, than the notion that some citizens’ votes count more than others? That by keeping certain people away from the polls, you somehow end up with a free and fair election? It’s galling and ridiculous, and frankly I’m ashamed we have to have this fight almost 50 years after the Voting Rights Act.
Those facts notwithstanding, and despite my continued belief that President Obama will be re-elected in November by a sizable margin, I can’t help but wonder how much effect all this will have on the election in practical terms. Just read the newspapers. Voter ID laws, voter purges and similar machinations are taking place all over the country, not just here in Pennsylvania.
Is it possible that GOP House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was actually onto something when he guaranteed a partisan crowd in June that, “Voter ID will allow Gov. Romney to win the state in November”?
I’ve tried not to think about that, just as I’ve convinced myself that in the end, all this won’t matter when Obama stands on the podium in triumph on election night.
But what if the worst should happen?
What if the concerned organizations and valiant lawyers on the front lines of the voter ID battle lose their appeals, and the law is in full effect on Election Day? Worse, what if Turzai is right, and key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida (coincidentally, those states specifically targeted by the GOP’s suppression strategists) fall into Romney’s hands?
And even worse than that, what if winning those key states is just enough to put Plastic Man over the top, and we’re faced with four years of watching people who own dressage horses and offshore accounts snatch food from the mouths of babies and senior citizens?
I know. Too horrible to contemplate, but in the name of pragmatism, we should at least consider the possibility, however remote — and what we’d do about it. I don’t have a doomsday scenario strategy mapped out, but I’m pretty sure how I’d handle a Romney presidency. It is remarkably similar to how the Republicans have handled President Obama these past three years.
First, taking my cues from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the knuckle-draggers, I’d never, ever call him President Romney. Just Romney, or better yet, just Willard.
Second, I would never miss an opportunity to bring up the racist past of the Mormon Church. I’d quote Mormon founders and leaders who taught until 1978 that my Black skin is a curse, and I am therefore unworthy of the blessings of God, or entrance to white heaven. (If you think this is a nasty, unfair swipe at the man’s religious beliefs, you should take up your appeal with my complaint officer, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.)
Third, I would spend a great deal of time and effort writing catchy sayings for bumper stickers and T-shirts. Mitt and Ryan – Always Lyin’, Need Healthcare? Just Die Already, and Utah is for Haters spring immediately to mind. Think I’m being unfair again? Check out the anti-Obama signs and bumper stickers at a tea party rally, then get back to me.
Finally, I would use this column to berate, harass and ridicule the Romney administration at every turn — rewriting history to suit my own purposes, and making up “facts” as I go along. I would do this every single week, without regard to relevance or context. There are too many examples to list here, but check out Ann Coulter or Cal Thomas if you have an objection.
If the other shoe indeed drops, I hope it’s a size 14. I know just where to put it.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
After roughly 19 months on the job, Commonwealth Secretary of State Carol Aichele has the unenviable task of convincing Pennsylvania voters that the Voter ID Law is designed to counter voter fraud, rather than a partisan move that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
Part of Aichele’s duty is to ensure that every eligible Pennsylvanian voter has the proper identification to vote, and to educate voters on the law – which, she stresses, will not allow any voter from being turned away at the polls without being afforded the opportunity to vote.
Aichele, along with Deputy Secretary Shannon E. Royer, met recently with the Tribune’s editorial board to reaffirm the nature of the law, and to get the word out that voters “may not be turned away from voting.”
“We have $5 million of ‘Help America Vote’ money for education for federal elections, and we would have spent money to educate voters about the election anyhow; we are also using the money to put forward the issue in respect to Voter ID,” Aichele said, listing the ways her office has mobilized for the coming elections. “And $250,000 is being used for non-media events, and the Bravo Group is averaging three events a day, seven days a week, going to community groups, church groups here in the city and across the state, chambers of commerce and rotary clubs.
“Anywhere [local organizations] ask us to go, we’ll send somebody out.”
As it stands, the State Department has worked in conjunction with PennDOT to create special voting purposes-only photo identification cards. To obtain one of these cards, a potential voter must present documentation verifying their name, social security number and any two sorts of utility bills or other such documents that will verify the voters’ address.
Aichele said the common misperception about the controversial Voter ID Law is that, without photo identification, there’s the potential that thousands of voters will not be able to vote. Aichele said no one will be turned away from the polls, as long as they can provide their first name, last name, social security number and produce two pieces of mail that verify their address; a voter will then receive a provisional ballot, which will allow them to cast their vote.
Both Aichele and Shannon seem acutely aware of the partisan overtones of the Voter ID Law, and agreed that recent comments attributed to Pennsylvania Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai haven’t done much to quell that perception.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done,” Turzai said, according to PoliticsPA.com. “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Further damaging Aichele’s stance is the harshly worded response to the U.S. Department of Justice request for the documentation and other voter information that determined the Voter ID Law in the first place.
Although Aichele says she didn’t write the response, and only became aware of it a few days before the Voter ID Law trial, her name is on the letter and it does lends credence to the critics who believe this law is another way to slant the vote.
Aichele also stood by her claims that more than 99 percent of all eligible Pennsylvanians already have the required photo identification, and that she estimates roughly half a million voters may need to either obtain the voter ID card through PennDOT, or will fill out provisional ballots.
When pressed on the merits and timing of the vote, Royer defended the Voter ID Law, noting City Commissioner Al Schmidt’s recent report that there have been more than 700 instances of voter fraud and other irregularities at Philadelphia polling places.
“People voting twice in the same day under different names, non-citizens voting, theoretically, some of them cannot have the types of acceptable identification used to vote; it would stop that kind of fraud,” Royer said. “To suggest that activities don’t occur that voter ID can help prevent is just not true. You have it right here in Philadelphia.
“That is why people have lost confidence in the vote.”
Aichele also said that while there are strict voting policies in place, her office has no enforcement or investigative powers, meaning any suspect activity will have to be dealt with by local law enforcement, along with the District Attorney’s office.
“We are going to try very hard to build confidence, and not withstanding what Mr. Turzai said, it is our intent to make sure that every eligible voter has a photo ID and votes, and we will protect their rights,” Aichele said. “No poll worker can turn them away from a polling place. They cannot be denied the right to vote. It’s their right.
“I’m absolutely certain that if this election is close and there are provisional ballots, that there will be lawyers looking into this very carefully, and I would welcome that.”
As attorneys from several community advocacy groups prepare to challenge the state’s new voter ID law in court later this month, others are gearing up to get voters registered and equipped with proper identification so they can vote on Nov. 6.
“Our vote is the most powerful tool we have in a democracy,” said Sharon Williams Losier, an attorney who is helping state Sen. Shirley Kitchen organize a city-wide campaign to educate Philadelphians about the new law, and help them get the ID they will need to cast a ballot.
Attorneys from the NAACP, the ACLU and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia have filed suit in an attempt to block the law. The case is scheduled to begin July 25 in Commonwealth Court.
But, residents shouldn’t be counting on a win in court to preserve their rights, said one attorney in the case.
“We can’t bank on this lawsuit,” said Ben Geffen, a staff attorney with the Public Interest Law Center.
Like Losier, he urged Philadelphians to get the ID they will need without delay.
“This isn’t something you can deal with the day before the election,” Geffen said. “Folks need to be aware of this right now and get the ball rolling.”
Kitchen’s office held the public meeting with attorneys and voter advocates Wednesday in North Philadelphia to solicit community input as to how they can spread the word about the new law and get people motivated.
The state Department of State, which oversees elections, recently estimated that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November.
The numbers, part of a report released last week, found that about 758,000 voters across the state lacked the necessary ID. That translated to 9.2 percent of all registered voters. Losier noted that President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 with a 10 percent edge — an edge that would be removed if the new law succeeds in keeping people away from the polls.
A more detailed look at who state officials expect to be affected by the new law is expected this week. It will take a more detailed look at the demographics of exactly who will be most affected by the new law. Critics have said since the debate on the law started that it would keep the poor, minorities, the elderly and youth from the polls.
“Older adults give up their cars and driver’s licenses but still vote,” said Jim Palmquist, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AARP, adding that others were born at a time when birth certificates were not always issued. “It’s very difficult to get their birth certificates.”
Geffen said he expected another segment of the population to be hard hit — women. The Pennsylvania law requires that name on a state ID match that on other documents, which means that women who are married may have a more difficult time obtaining proper identification.
“All documents need to show the same first and last name,” he said.
The City Commissioners’ Office has launched a citywide effort to get people registered and make sure they have the ID required.
“We want to make sure that everyone who is registered gets out and votes,” said Gregory Irving, the acting voter registration administrator with the commissioners’ office.
The state’s new law has long been controversial with critics. Supporters said the law was needed to stop voter fraud.
Critics, however, were given ammunition in their argument when Republican state house leader Rep. Mike Turzai said the law will “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state in November, according to a report.
“(The) Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told a group of Republicans in late June.
For more information on the state’s new ID requirements, visit www.votespa.com.
On the day the state Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about the state’s controversial new voter ID law, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams is scheduled to host a Voter ID Education and Action Rally to help voters take the necessary steps to ensure that their vote counts this November.
“While we continue to fight this confusing, unnecessary and utterly disgraceful new law, it’s crucial that voters are made aware of their rights so that they are ready for Election Day,” Williams said. “Freedom-loving Americans cherish the vote, a right for which generations have died to secure. That’s why we’re set to answer questions, offer resources and ensure that as many people as possible are prepared and able to protect and exercise their vote this fall.”
The rally will take place on Thursday, Sept. 13, at 5 p.m. at Kingsessing Recreation Center, located at 50th Street and Kingsessing Avenue in Philadelphia.
There will be representatives from various civic organizations available to talk to participants about the law, opportunities to volunteer for voter outreach, entertainment and free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while supplies last.
The new law will now force voters to present specific forms of photo ID when they cast their ballots, starting with this November’s election.
Several organizations have fought in Commonwealth Court to strike down the law, arguing that the nation’s most restrictive measure to date could disenfranchise some 750,000 previously valid voters. Despite these and other facts, the court upheld it.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case and is expected to begin proceedings on Sept. 13.
Williams, Democratic whip and Democratic chair of the state government committee, and his Senate Democratic colleagues voted against the voter ID legislation earlier this year.
They contend that it would adversely impact select members of the voting population — namely people of color, seniors, women and youthful voters. Video that surfaced of state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai bragging that the law would allow Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania further bolstered claims that voter ID was designed to suppress votes, not reduce fraud, which to date has been reported as minimal, if at all.
Last week, Williams and his colleagues filed an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court in support of efforts to stop the law from being implemented.
As opponents of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, or Act 18, await a final decision by Judge Robert Simpson, the results of a recent study regarding the expected impact of the law were announced this week.
During a teleconference on the validity of the law, Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, said that original state estimates were wrong. Reeves said the research shows that as many as 400,000 eligible voters would be turned away from the polls in November because they lack proper identification.
“We surveyed 227 actual voters who participated in the last primary election,” Reeves said. “Of that number, 49 percent were African-American, 18 percent Latino and the rest a mix of other ethnicities. We wanted to know if the voter ID law was being implemented fairly and evenly. What we found were half of the voters surveyed were asked to show a valid photo ID. Fifty-nine percent had a driver’s license, 13 percent had some form of military ID and 3 percent had employee photo identification. There were 4 percent of those who turned out that had no photo ID at all. That 4 percent translates into 400,000 eligible voters who would be barred from voting. The survey also showed that the 4 percent who had no photo ID were non-white — none of the white respondents were affected. Clearly that shows there is some racial disparity here, and we have a lot of work left to do in order to educate voters.”
Democratic State Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams, Vincent Hughes and NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous were also on hand for the teleconference and offered their insights into how the Voter ID law would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Jealous said that voter suppression was always the intent behind the legislation, and Williams referred to it as one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said. “These are the facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
According to Reeves, his research team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also polled voters in Allegheny and Butler counties and the August 7 special elections, taking random surveys. The surveys determined that enforcement of the law was arbitrary and 4 percent of those voters — all people of color — possessed no forms of valid photo identification at all.
Jealous said voter suppression, particularly of African Americans and other minorities — segments of the population most inclined to vote for Barack Obama in November — was always the intention.
“The 4 percent number suggests those who would be affected by this is much larger than the state suggested,” Jealous said. “This says to me that senior citizens, many of whom fought against the Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, would be significantly affected — and after so long now they’re going to see that repeat itself. This report shows that was the intent of the law, Senator Mike Turzai said that was the intent and if not for the courts this will be successful.”
In June, Republican State Sen. Mike Turzai stated during a party function that the state’s Voter ID law would help presidential candidate Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania. In August, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, also a Republican, upheld the law. Simpson stated in his decision that opponents who were asking for an injunction that would halt its implementation didn’t adequately demonstrate that voters would be adversely affected.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which challenged the law, appealed to the State Supreme Court, who, in a ruling on Sept. 18, kicked the decision back to Simpson. Ruling 4 to 2, the justices ordered Simpson to consider whether or not all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. The high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2nd.
“This is empirical evidence of what Turzai stated, and what we and my colleagues have been saying all along. This is all about assisting Romney through voter suppression,” said Hughes. “This is real evidence of what the actual intent was, and shows that the state is nowhere near ready to implement this failed law, which is what it is. Even if all the data was in place, when we escort people to PennDot centers to get their state photo ID’s, they get mixed and conflicting information about what they need. There are significant problems here. At best this law needs to be thrown out, and at worst, its implantation should be halted.”
I got an angry letter from Governor Corbett last week, or at least from one of his minions — chastising me for a column I wrote the week before calling for Corbett’s impeachment.
Click this link to see the letter in its entirety, and you can read it for yourself. I’m not going to refute its content point by point, but there are a couple of highlights that beg further review.
Dennis Roddy, special assistant to the governor, attempts to take me to task for saying Corbett’s been bending over backwards to accommodate his Big Oil and Big Energy friends and contributors tearing up Marcellus Shale and its surrounding communities by reminding readers that Corbett “laid down more than $1 million in penalties on a Marcellus driller for environmental failures.”
Well, Dennis, I took your suggestion and googled “Chesapeake, record fine,” and guess what? The $1 million fine is there, along with the fact that Chesapeake Energy, the company in question, owns 519 well permits in Pennsylvania and has been reporting annual revenues between $7.6 billion and $11.3 billion a year for the past four years. Chesapeake also pays its CEO $116.89 million per year, making him the third highest paid executive in the country. I seriously doubt that the $1 million in fines, however unprecedented, made much of a dent in their $11 billion profit margin. I also doubt that a drop-in-the-bucket fine is much of an incentive to make those corporations accountable for the devastated communities they’ll leave behind, or to discontinue thumbing their noses at environmental regulations.
Also notable is the boast that, “The governor crafted and implemented an impact fee in addition to this, meaning that a fully productive well will pay $310,000 to its host community over a10-year period.”
Wait a second, let me get this straight. A fully productive well, pumping millions of dollars worth of natural gas, will pay the host community — an entire township or borough — a whopping $31,000 per year for ten years. That should be of great comfort to the folks who’ll be able to light their tap water on fire, or find themselves dying of a host of environmentally based illnesses. $31,000 won’t even pay for the water they’ll have to truck in from out of town just to take a shower.
What is most telling, however, about Roddy’s tersely worded retort, is not what it says, but what it doesn’t say.
He doesn’t include one word about the voter ID law, about which I had the most to say in that column, and many columns previous. He doesn’t think its “odd,” “astonishing,” or “alarming” that I called Corbett’s law “the most insidious violation of citizens’ basic rights and dignity since “Colored Only” water fountains.” I compared it to the fire hose and police dog voter suppression tactics of the 1960s, and even headlined one column, “Tom Corbett, meet Jim Crow.”
I mean, if there were ever an opening to defend a policy you strongly believe in, that would have been it right there.
While vigorously defending Marcellus Shale drillers and Corbett’s handling of the Penn State scandal while he was Attorney General, when it comes to defending the most egregious piece of legislation in the state affecting the elderly, the poor, immigrants and ethnic minorities — silence. You can almost hear the crickets.
No attempt to convince Tribune readers that the voter ID law is free of racism, or even partisanship. No defense of voter ID law sponsor state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who once featured life-size targets of President Obama for his gun-toting contributors to shoot live rounds at one of his fundraising hoedowns. No acknowledgement of the accidental slip of the truth from House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who bragged to a partisan crowd in June that the voter ID law would insure a Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania.
Could it be that Roddy simply forgot about all that when crafting the carefully worded defense of his boss? Or could it be that Corbett knows only too well that the voter ID law — and particularly the sinister motivation behind it — is as shamelessly partisan and nakedly racist as anything to come out of Harrisburg in years?
There’s even talk among Republicans nationally of repealing the Voting Rights Act altogether. Women, gays, minorities, senior citizens and immigrants are all in the GOP cross hairs this election season. Vote like your life depends upon it, because it just might.
Then, impeach Corbett.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
The eyes of the nation are on Pennsylvania this week as court hearings opposing the state’s controversial Voter ID law opened on Wednesday.
The law, which opponents say was nothing more than an attempt by Republican lawmakers to hand the commonwealth over to Mitt Romney in the presidential elections under the guise of fighting voter fraud, is being challenged on the grounds that it violates the state constitution. But that’s just one front on which the legislation is being attacked. This week the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped into the ring and has ordered the state to prove the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits voting requirements that would disproportionately impact minorities, which opponents of the law say it was designed to do.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes during a rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol building. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple — and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law is about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Governor Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
From the very beginning the law, which was supposed to be a firewall against voter fraud, came under fire from Democratic leaders who maintained that the legislation was always meant to stack the upcoming November elections in favor of the Republicans. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler and Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed off on it once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the state one of 16 to have such a law. The vote in the House was split exactly on party lines with three Republicans, Reps. Christopher Ross, Marguerite Quinn and Kurt Masser stepping across the aisle to join the Democratic opposition.
The law requires that a registered voter produce either a valid state driver’s license or non-driver’s license identification card. Other acceptable forms of identification would be a valid student’s ID, passport or military identification. One of the problems, opponents say, is many elderly voters don’t have and cannot produce documentation of their birth — a requirement for obtaining the state identification card. Many of those individuals have been registered voters for years and would be turned away from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Many female voters could also be adversely affected since their married names aren’t the names on their birth certificates.
Hughes said that attorneys for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allege there have been no known cases of voter fraud committed in the state. He also said that when Corbett was state attorney general he never prosecuted one single case of voter fraud.
ACLU attorneys think they have a strong enough case to block the law. In May, shortly after Corbett signed the bill into law, the ACLU, the Public Interest Law Center, the Advancement Project and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a law suit against it. The case, Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, argues that the law violated the state constitution, and in their brief, outline several points that will be expounded upon during proceedings:
• The commonwealth now admits that it cannot identify even a single instance in which a person voted improperly in Pennsylvania because they were able to impersonate someone else at the polling place.
• The commonwealth's new estimates of voters without acceptable ID — about three quarters of a million people — are understated based on the commonwealth's own records and based on survey evidence gathered by petitioners, and that the actual number is that one million or more eligible voters do not have the necessary ID to vote in November.
• The commonwealth has not adequately informed the public that they need to undertake a time consuming task simply in order to vote as they have in years past. An estimated 37 percent of residents are not even aware of the voter ID law or believe there is no photo ID law. More importantly, the vast majority of people who do not have valid ID under the law mistakenly believe that they have acceptable ID (13.1 percent of total eligible voters and 11.8 percent of people who voted for president in 2008).
"George Washington didn't need a voter ID card,” said State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams during the Harrisburg rally. “John Adams didn't need a voter ID card. Ronald Reagan didn't need a voter ID card. If it wasn't good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's not good enough for me."
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania - and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also states that Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.” Neither Governor Corbett nor the state attorney general will testify during the hearings, per the agreement.
The United States Department of Justice has also jumped into the legal battle, ordering Commonwealth officials to prove that the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; a law forbidding any voting requirements that would disproportionately affect minority voters. In a letter sent this past Monday to acting secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, the DOJ requested the state turnover the complete voter registration list, including voter history and race of registered voters and the current Pennsylvania driver license and ID list.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts states that: No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
The Justice Department also wants any documents supporting Gov. Tom Corbett's March 2012 statement that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID. The state has 30 days to comply. Similar laws in South Carolina and Texas were successfully blocked by the Justice Department.
“The stipulation says that the state is ‘not aware of’ any incidents of voter impersonation, which the Voter ID law is allegedly designed to address, and that the state is not prepared to present any evidence in support of the existence of such fraud. This should end the argument that the Voter ID law would prevent any voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said State Senator Daylin Leach in a press release. Leach also said that since there is no evidence of voter fraud, Republican State Representative Mike Turzai told the truth when he said at a recent partisan event that the law would help Romney win Pennsylvania.
“Also, filings indicate the Commonwealth will argue that the court should adopt a rational-basis standard for reviewing the law's Constitutionality,” Leach continued. “Anyone who has completed a semester of law school will know this means the administration, incredibly, believes that voting is not a fundamental right. The only remaining justification for the law is to prevent future incidents of fraud, of which there is also no evidence. That’s quite a thin argument to justify a law that disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, and this proves that Representative Turzai was telling the truth. This law is about nothing more than helping Republicans win the election this November.”
Last week’s ruling by Pa. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, which approved the legality of a voting rights robbing law, passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year, sets another discriminatory standard for 21st-century America.
However, Judge Simpson’s ruling isn’t a singular example of a jurist providing legality to a political party’s illegal/prejudicial effort to achieve an electoral advantage.
Simpson’s ruling simply continues a little known legacy of some Pennsylvania judges disrespecting the voting rights of Blacks in Pennsylvania — the state that hosted the birth of American democracy.
In 1837, Pennsylvania, a predominately white political party got a white judge in Bucks County to invalidate a local election it lost, ruling it was illegal for Blacks to vote despite existing state law stating otherwise.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling further robbing voting rights from Free Blacks in Pennsylvania followed that 1837 Bucks County ruling.
And, those twin judicial rulings — based more on social custom than law — provided validation for Pennsylvania’s 1838 state constitution explicitly limiting voting rights to ‘white’ men only.
“This voter ID law is a part of a concerted and continuous voter suppression effort against Blacks that started in the 1830s,” renowned expert on Pennsylvania’s Black history Charles Blockson said during an interview last week.
Blockson is an author and founder of the internationally lauded Charles L. Blockson African-American Collection at Temple University, one of the most unique collections of its kind.
Pennsylvania, rightfully perceived as an anti-slavery state during the racially contentious pre-Civil War era, experienced numerous racist assaults and insults against its free Black population — discriminatory deprivations that many argue persist today, albeit in less blatant forms than in bygone eras.
“We forget our history,” Blockson stressed.
“A lawyer from my hometown of Norristown, John Sterigere, inserted that white-male-only clause into Pennsylvania’s 1838 constitution,” Blockson said noting how last week’s court ruling and that 1838 constitutional convention “both took place in Harrisburg” the state capital.
Lawyer Sterigere and Judge Simpson both employed similar rationales to support their positions.
Sterigere swayed 1838 constitutional convention delegates with his argument that restricting voting to white-males-only was consistent with identical restrictions in other states, irrespective of the racism explicit in those restrictions.
Simpson justified his upholding of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law by citing court rulings in other states that upheld similar measures requiring government issued identification to vote, irrespective of the democracy-destroying wrongness of such laws.
The rulings of Judge Simpson, 1830s Bucks County Judge John Fox and 1830s Pa. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Bannister Gibson all employed application of a duplicitous ‘law-doesn’t-mean-what-it-says’ illogic.
Although Pennsylvania’s constitution, operative before 1838, granted voting rights to all tax-paying ‘Freemen’ over age 21 with two years of Pennsylvania residency, both Fox and Gibson ruled against eligible Black voters contending that free Blacks were not Freemen for electoral purposes.
Gibson, seizing Fox’s reasoning, proclaimed their ancestors settled Pennsylvania “as a community of white men” and since an “unconquerable prejudice” existed against all Blacks (slave and Free) the word freeman in Pennsylvania’s Constitution was “not potent enough to admit a free negro to suffrage … ”
Those 1837 judicial rulings plus that 1838 constitutional convention left Pennsylvania’s free Black population in the perverse posture of taxation-without-representation, the deprivation that spurred America’s War of Independence from England.
Pennsylvania’s current constitution states elections “shall be free and equal” barring the imposition of “additional qualifications on the right to vote.”
Judge Simpson did acknowledge “the inconvenience” created by the ID law especially for the elderly, the infirm, the homeless and persons unable to access the state’s offices issuing proper ID cards.
But Simpson asserted that inconvenience “does not qualify as substantially burdensome” for the majority of registered Pennsylvania voters.
Thus, according to Simpson, the state’s constitutional mandate for fair elections free of additional qualifications doesn’t really mean what it says.
The law also creates ID hurdles for eligible voters released from prison, an impediment not referenced in Simpson’s ruling.
Judge Simpson disingenuously brushed off a damning declaration made in June 2012 by the Pa. House Majority Leader who proudly confessed during a Republican Party meeting that the true intention behind the voter ID law was to help the GOP’s presidential candidate win Pennsylvania.
House Leader Mike Turzai, when listing 2012 GOP legislative accomplishments like corporate tax cuts during that June meeting, said, “Voter ID — which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania — done!”
While Judge Simpson termed Turzai’s “tendentious statements” disturbing, Simpson speciously declined to “infer” that other Republican Pa. legislators “shared the boastful views” of Turzai — refusing to invalidate the law for its now acknowledged rights robbing intent.
Simpson’s ruling ignored obvious context that Turzai made his boast during a Republican Party meeting attended by some fellow GOP legislators.
Further, other Pennsylvania GOP legislators do share Turzai’s support for the law as evidenced by the law’s originator Republican Daryl Metcalfe and 49 other GOP legislators filing an amicus brief in Simpson’s court backing the law.
“We know the reason for this law,” Charles Blockson said. “We have a Black president!”
One week before Judge Simpson’s ruling claiming the controversial voter ID law was “nondiscriminatory,” critics of that law released a disturbing study documenting that law’s discriminatory impact in Philadelphia.
A conclusion of that study stated “African-American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the voter ID law …”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship program.
The recent voter ID law that was passed in Pennsylvania, in April, has created such a political stir that grassroots leaders, prominent community organizations, politicians and clergy, have shifted into overdrive to push voter registration, voter turnout and an educational blitz about the proper ID required to vote in the November election.
During a citywide voter ID rally, held on Sunday at Bright Hope Baptist Church, the Tribune caught up with civil rights leader Jerome Whyatt Mondesire, president, NAACP/Philadelphia Chapter, for his comments about the voter ID law. Mondesire believes the voter ID law is a veiled political attempt to suppress votes: “We firmly believe that, it’s not just in Pennsylvania; there are 41 states where they have tried this, it is designed to keep the turnout of African Americans, Latinos, young people and seniors down … Republicans believe that if they are able to keep the vote down, that they can possibly win several key states that they didn’t win in 2008.”
Mondesire did not mince words in further excoriating high ranking Republicans for crafting the voter ID law for this particular election cycle, “It’s all about the politics, to talk about stopping fraud, it’s just a lie. (Governor) Corbett’s a liar and his colleagues in the state House and the state Senate who passed this law, they’re equally liars.”
According to an August 10, 2012 news article published in the Altoona Mirror newspaper, in Altoona, Pa. (“Voter ID Law, Wrong”), it read: “Pennsylvania recently passed a voter ID law, citing the need to protect against voting fraud. However, there hasn’t been any such widespread fraud in the state, with only four cases of voting fraud documented since 2004.
Recently, Rep. Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania House majority leader, revealed the real reason the voter ID law was passed. Speaking to a Republican gathering, he bragged the voter ID law will ensure Gov. Mitt Romney a victory in Pennsylvania.”
Cherelle Parker, state Representative (D-200th District) and chair, Philadelphia Delegation of the Pennsylvania House, received a standing ovation during her brief speech at the Bright Hope Baptist Church Voter ID Rally, “The clergy, of all faiths, has always been at the lead to motivate and inspire and to organize … we all have to take responsibility for ensuring that we won’t allow any law, any legislator, or anything of that nature, to infringe on our constitutional right to vote.”
Parker cited that in the 2008 presidential election, Pennsylvania delivered a victory for Obama by a slim margin of votes saying, “I didn’t realize that there was such a short-small margin of victory between the winner and the loser in the last presidential election … there was only a 620,000 vote difference … we have 12 million people here (in Pennsylvania), and the (state) election was determined by a little over a half million people.”
The VIP guests on the dais, representing and supporting the Pennsylvania Voter ID Faith-Based Coalition/Voter ID Rally at Bright Hope, included a diversity of ethnicities, genders, faiths, political hierarchy and community leadership: Rev. Dr. J. Wendall Mapson Jr., pastor, Monumental Baptist Church; Everette Gillison, chief of staff, Mayor’s Office; Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners; Rev. Charles Quann, pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church (Penllyn, Pa.); Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs (retired), Congregation Rodeph Shalom; Rev. Bonnie Camarda, Hispanic Clergy Community; Minister Rodney Muhammad, Muhammad Mosque No. 12; Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia; state Representative Cherelle Parker; Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church; Rabbi Adam Zeff, Germantown Jewish Center; Rev. Tamieka Moore, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. William Moore, pastor, Tenth Memorial Baptist Church; and Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director at Committee of Seventy/Greater Philadelphia Area.
Commenting on the voter ID law, Rev. Quann said, “I really think it’s a moral issue … (African Americans) have been denied the right to vote for many years. People have given their lives to vote, and I just believe in my heart that this (election) is not about a particular candidate, but rather, it’s an opportunity for people to vote based upon their choice. And when that’s taken away, then we have to really respond, so, I’m here today to respond on behalf of a people,” who many believe are targeted to be disenfranchised from voting this election cycle.
“It’s important that everyone vote and that we teach people how to get their proper ID to do so. If the law makes it difficult for people who have every right to vote, to do so, then the law I think, becomes a problem; but we’re going to do the best we can to make sure that everybody’s able to vote,” said Rabbi Fuchs.
Rabbi Zeff said his synagogue and the Jewish community are very active in advocating for voter rights for all people saying, “we thought with the passage of the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) that our fight was over and that we had won; and now we’re finding that our fight is not over, and that the right to vote is being attacked, even in our (current day). So, we see this as an issue of justice and equality, that whoever people support for an election, and whatever partisan views that they may have, their voice deserves to be heard. And this (voter ID) law … makes it more difficult, especially for certain classes of voters, who have every right to vote, to be able to exercise that right. It’s an unjust law … we need to work to help voters comply with this law, even while thinking, it’s an unjust law.”
“People need help in navigating the law and navigating the process, and we just want to be available as faith leaders, because we feel it is our responsibility to speak for social justice issues and for equality. We just want to help empower (citizens) so that they can make their voices heard through the ballot, which is the democratic way,” said Rev. Mapson.
The Committee of Seventy, a prominent non-profit that advocates for effective government and fair elections, has published a list of area churches where the community can find information and help with voter ID requirements. An abridged listing includes: Bible Way Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52nd St., Philadelphia, Pa.; St. Mark AME Zion Church, 136 N. Congress St., Newton, Pa.; Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Holmesburg, 8101 Erdick St., Holmesburg, Pa.; Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, 1328 N. 19th St., Philadelphia, Pa.; and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, 128 Walnut St., Ardmore, Pa.
For 25 years, Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, has been the resident imam of Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia, in Germantown. He expressed impassioned feelings about the voter ID law and other recent political maneuverings, “We appreciate being able to hold such a rally to educate our people (about the voter ID law), but I really look at it as another form of modern day slavery. As we begin to close 40 schools, open 10 new prisons, and begin to take the right away from our people to vote, I think it’s a travesty in our community.” As a committeeman in his neighborhood, Imam Muhammad said, “I have worked the (voting) polls myself…I’ve worked the polls for the last 20 years, and there’s no voter fraud going on at the polls.”
According to Stephanie Singer, chair, Philadelphia County Commissioners, the voter ID law, “Is an attack on Philadelphia. This law is designed to suppress the vote in Philadelphia, and all of us Philadelphians … all of us need to come together to defend our city against this attack. I want people to know that voting is powerful, and that every election matters … elections have consequences, and when we as a city do not turn out to vote, we are giving up power to the rest of the state.”
Everett Gillison, former deputy mayor for public safety and current chief of staff to Mayor Michael Nutter, had this to say about the voter ID law: “As the mayor would say, ‘Democracy began here (in Philadelphia).’ And this (voter ID law) is an attack on our fundamental right to vote and to participate. That’s why voter education is so critically important, and the mayor wanted to make sure that we all rallied together and do what’s necessary to protect our rights.” Gillison said that a more measured approach to rolling out this law and greater public education would have been a better way to implement the law. Furthermore, Gillison concluded that, according to Mayor Nutter, the voter ID law “was a remedy in search of a problem.”
Joe Certaina, co-convener and director of operations for the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, said that “The main purpose of (today’s rally is) to form an alliance, a grassroots alliance, with the faith community in Philadelphia County and the surrounding area. From that alliance, we expect to harness volunteers as well as voter educational opportunities through voter ID clinics, and to put together a transportation network that will help people to get to the Pennsylvania PennDot offices … in time for people to get the voter identification they need to vote.”
For more information about proper voter identification, or to volunteer, the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition’s office is at 310 West Chelten Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., phone: 215-848-1283; or visit the Committee of Seventy website: http://www.seventy.org/.
“We cannot sit here and say we’re not going to vote, simply because the law has changed. You have to vote, beloved … ,” said Rev. Kevin Johnson, pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church.
Months ago, when Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law was being bandied about in the legislature, members of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration went out of their way to assure voters that the measure had the purest of intentions: eliminating voter fraud. (Never mind the fact that only a handful of cases of actual voter fraud have ever been documented.)
Not only was Voter ID good for the election process, they argued, but also compliance with the law wouldn’t be much of an inconvenience to voters. Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele told lawmakers at the time that 99 percent of the state's voters already had the necessary identification.
Over the past few weeks, the thin web of shameless lies surrounding the Voter ID law has begun to unravel.
Late Tuesday afternoon, just before the July 4th holiday, Aichele’s department issued a press release disclosing the results of a computerized match between PennDOT's databases and a database of registered voters – doubtless hoping that information would be lost in the news cycle.
It showed 758,000 Pennsylvania voters, roughly 9 percent – did not have PennDOT-issued ID, either a driver's license or a non-driver photo ID. In Philadelphia, the numbers were twice as bad, with 18 percent of registered voters not having the necessary identification to cast their ballots in November. That’s a far cry from her previous 99 percent lie, which is why Secretary Aichele has not commented publicly since issuing the release.
Six organizations, the Committee of Seventy, the League of Women Voters, the state ACLU, the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, The Advancement Project, and Pennsylvania Common Cause petitioned Corbett on Friday, in light of the new numbers, to delay enacting the Voter ID law for a year.
Corbett’s office issued an immediate refusal.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the cat out of the bag a couple of weeks ago, when he bragged to GOP allies, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”
Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law has a lot less to do with stopping voter fraud than it does stopping President Barack Obama from winning a second term. And the law’s Republican supporters are perfectly happy to deny hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians their constitutional right to vote in order to achieve that goal.