As Voter ID Upheld, Groups Offer Criticism, Vow Education and Prepare for Appeal
Things are about to get a bit nuttier in Pennsylvania politics. Because this morning, Republican Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld the Pennsylvania Voter ID law in a 70-page decision. Voter ID, which has been criticized by many as being a voter suppression law, is now slated to remain state law through the election.
An appeal is expected to be filed tomorrow. Several groups have released statements citing their outrage and calling for a mass-education movement to make sure everyone who wants to vote, can, by November.
The law, which would require all Pennsylvania citizens to show photo identification each time they vote, was passed by the Republican Legislature last spring and had been challenged in court last month by the American Civil Liberties Union and others. Today’s decision prompted a series of press conferences and calls from various groups which have undertaken the issue.
To help us all better understand today’s decision (the original challenge had been called a “slam dunk” case by the plaintiffs before it began) the ACLU and other legal groups in the case hosted a 1 p.m. call with reporters from around the country to explain the legal ramifications and interpretation of the law.
“Given clear evidence that impersonation fraud is not a problem, we had hoped that the court would show greater concern for the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this law,” noted ACLU of Pennsylvania legal director Vic Walczak in a press release.
On the call, several others noted their disagreement with the case, especially in how the court interpreted the standard used to make its decision. The lawyers on the call noted Judge Simpson used what’s called a ‘deference standard’ rather than a ‘strict scrutiny standard’ in the case.
Walczak explained that a ‘strict scrutiny’ judgment means the government has a burden to note infringement on constitutional rights. ‘Deference’ means the burden is more on the individuals—in this case, the plaintiffs. In the decision, Simpson notes the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to prove the law would impose “irreparable” harm on citizens—not that the government infringed on any constitutional rights.
The Pennsylvania decision differs from Wisconsin, of course, whose state court blocked a similar ALEC-approved law.
“The court in this case sticks with–the Wisconsin court comes out similar to the Mississippi court…and applies the strict scrutiny standard. This court found that under pa law there should be very deferential standard,” noted David Gersch, of Arnold & Porter, who was part of the case.
“At this point, we are bound by the facts as the Commonwealth court found them so it comes down to a legal argument and the legal argument is what should be applied when you have a law like this that burdens the right to vote…we will point to the cases that support us that say when you have a law that burdens the right to vote on a strict scrutiny standard,” noted Jennifer Clarke of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
The opinion acknowledges that there are a lot of people who don’t have id though did not accept the numbers that the ACLU and other witnesses showed—though it accepted the number was more than 1 percent of voters, which the state had originally argued.
Criticism From The Left Remains The Same
Among them was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. They held a press conference this afternoon at their Philadelphia office along Cecil B. Moore in North Philly.
“[Now we must] get the word out that ID is now required and the ID must have certain proponents in it,” said Philadelphia NAACP president Jerry Mondesire, who spent much of the press conference promoting mass education in the face of the new Voter ID law. He noted groups will now begin working with colleges around the state to encourage expiration dates on student IDs—as required according to the law—and may work with the city to offer free city photo IDs.
He did, though, have additional harsh words for the law and its proponents.
“The way we read it, it was clearly tailored to fit this election,” he continued. “They won’t care after November 7th. It was designed just as [Rep. Mike] Turzai said it was, to make sure that Pennsylvania went in the Republican column. That’s what this was all about. It was always based on a lie…[It is] a very serious issue designed for political purposes.”
The NAACP plans to have an event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on August 25 to raise money for this cause.
One of the biggest sources of contention with the law was that it was a solution in search of a problem. The state, in its defense, noted they were “not aware of any incidents of in person voter fraud.” The argument, then, became that the legislator exercised “their latitude to make election-related laws,” as the AP put it, when they passed Voter ID.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who has been against the law since the beginning, released a statement noting the law must be overturned on appeal.
“[T]oday’s ruling in Commonwealth Court places this pre-eminent right at the mercy of unreasonable burdens on our senior citizens, our college students, on minorities, on those who don’t have driver’s licenses, and those who may have been born in another state where life-cycle record-keeping is, or was, unreliable,” he said.
Numerous Pennsylvania Democrats have tweeted their dismay with the decision, as well.
“#voterID ruling is disheartening and disturbing, but it’s NOT the end. We will continue to fight,” tweeted Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.
“#voterID decision a disgrace,” added Senator Vincent Hughes on Twitter.
“We are disappointed that the Pennsylvania court has upheld this voter suppression law. Recently, when similar laws in other states have been reviewed by a court or the U.S. Department of Justice they have been deemed to be discriminatory, and we believe this to be the case in Pennsylvania,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
Education Events Planned
Bickering aside, several state Reps. from Philadelphia, as well as Councilmembers will be hosting information seminars on Voter ID in the coming weeks. The Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition says their efforts will be “rapidly expanding across the state” including gathering volunteers going door-to-door in every neighborhood throughout Philadelphia.
Additionally, according to information released today, they will be using web and mobile applications through social media to get the word out to those who are not aware of the particular standards of the law.
“The Operations Center has detailed and up‐to‐the‐minute information about the voter ID law, including materials dedicated to targeted voting constituencies most likely not to have a photo ID for voting, who tend to be older, young, poor, disabled or new Americans,” the Coalition wrote today.
The Obama campaign seemed to mirror this line of thinking, issuing a message on the ruling which noted education is the key to success for Democrats in this election.
“Regardless of today’s decision, we remain committed to working with supporters and volunteers across the state to register and educate Pennsylvanians about the Voter ID law. We want to ensure all eligible voters have the information they need to get to the polls in November and exercise their right to vote,” noted PA press secretary Jennifer Austin. “Now more than ever it is important that the Commonwealth follow through on its plan to make available free IDs to any voter who may need them. Regardless of party affiliation, we support ensuring any voter eligible to cast a ballot has the right to do so.”
Right Wing Says ‘Let’s Roll’
Of course there’s dissenting opinion on the case. A majority of Pennsylvania citizens support the idea of a Voter ID law and a recent poll shows that 74 percent of Americans, nationwide, support such a law, as well. We noted last week that this is understandable, especially as polls rarely—never?—go through all the repercussions that could stem from the Republican legislation.
The right wing blogosphere has expressed a whisperish glee today, with Red State offering no blogs on the case (yet), and the Washington Times running a standard story making note of Simpson’s decision. Drudge noted the decision with a headline, too.
Commentary Magazine called the law a “Democratic ploy” in their jovial commentary on the decision.
Locally, Republican John Featherman, who is running in Pennsylvania’s First District to unseat U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, noted his satisfaction with the decision.
“Voter ID is necessary to provide confidence that the impersonation loophole is closed,” he says. “Assuming the decision stands, the Republican Party should place its efforts on appointing minority inspectors, who in turn will appoint clerks. That, along with appointing poll watchers in every precinct, will provide the greatest protection: Live folks on the scene, with competing interests, to provide checks and balances to minimize (can’t eliminate) all forms of election fraud.”
The win, of course, is a huge win for Gov. Corbett and Pennsylvania Republicans. Corbett had recently gotten caught up during a press conference when he admitted he did not know what was in the law. Rep. Mike Turzai plainly stated the law was to help Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania, and, therefore, the election in November. Different groups have estimated different numbers of voters would be disenfranchised by the law. While the governor, as previously noted, estimated 1 percent of voters would be affected, others have put that number over 1 million. Pennsylvania’s importance in the national election has given this issue particular scrutiny.
It’s Not Over
The good news for opponents of the law: When the appeal happens, it will go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will issue a ruling likely before the November election. That court is currently split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, as the 7th Justice, Republican Joan Orie Melvin, is under suspension because of a corruption scandal. Think Progress notes Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican of Philadelphia, is likely to side with Democrats. The federal Justice Department is also looking into the law.
That being said, it’s rare the state Supreme Court overturns a Commonwealth Court decision. The “Supreme Court, when it wants to, can act very quickly,” noted Clarke on the ACLU’s call earlier—though that is “completely up to them.”
She did not offer an exact date the plaintiffs expect the challenge’s opinion to be filed.
Simpson noted in his decision that he is “convinced [the law] will be implemented by Commonwealth in a non-partisan even-handed manner.” Glass-half-full much?