Is Voter ID Ruling a Win or Delayed Loss?
Many in the media and punditry began calling Tuesday’s ruling on the Pennsylvania Voter ID bill a win immediately after Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson issued a stay of the law.
And sure. For the immediate future, voters will not be suppressed from their civic right.
But the law was not overturned. It is very much still alive. And the more we ignore it now, the more confusing and, perhaps, worse things will be in the long run.
“The ruling is a partial victory,” says Philadelphia voting activist Faye Anderson, who has spent the last year creating web applications which will help the local and national citizenry vote. “While voters will be asked to show a photo ID, they will not be required to present an acceptable form of photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot. But in the run-up to Election Day, the Pennsylvania Department of State will be allowed to continue its “Show it” voter outreach campaign.”
Did you read that carefully? The ruling allows the Dept. of State to continue advertising the law as if it were being implemented this year. Anderson’s advice: “To minimize voter confusion, [the Dept. of State] should shove the PR campaign and spend resources training poll workers on the new rules,” she says.
But will they? Probably not.
And it will only get worse. As the state continues its push for future elections, the rhetoric surrounding Voter ID from the left will likely go away with the coming weeks of headlines, horserace politics and the general notion that identification is one less thing to worry about. With the stay of the law, one can expect a lesser effort between now and election day to get IDs and voter education to the people who need it most, while the state continues its ID push.
Then there’s the long game. While you will not be required to provide an ID in November, you will be required to provide one next November, and the November after that. And so on. Given the general infatuation with national elections (and the former idea that we live in a swing state), it’s likely the downturn in midterm and local voting will be reflected even moreso amongst those who currently lack identification.
Two years ago, the story was the Tea Party. They had momentum and their Astroturf campaign (as it was called at the time) got conservatives out to vote. The Republicans won big and yet, the Associated Press found that only 42 percent of registered voters, or, 37.8 percent of voting-age Americans, showed up. That was down from 56.8 percent of voting-age Americans in 2008—and such decreases in midterm voting is a common occurrence. Elections since the 1960s have generally gone from the 50 and 60 percent margins during presidential years to the 30 and 40 percent margins in midterm and off-years, as voting habits have generally become less frequent.
And the ones who often don’t come out to vote during the midterms? Same as those affected by Voter ID. Two years ago, it was student and minority voters who stayed home, which partially led to the huge Republican majority wins, except where the Republican was openly nutty, like in Nevada and Delaware. Those same people were being encouraged to come out this year, in spite of the identification law. Two years from now, four years from now, it might be a different story.
“How’s that going to look in 2014?” Jon Geeting of liberal blog Keystone Politics writes me by email. “Can’t know, but if voter ID means a lot of minority voters and students end up not getting IDs, it’s probably going to be worse than in a Presidential year where at least you have more people from those groups trying to vote.”