Voter ID: How did we get here? Part II
By the time 2012 came around, Pennsylvania was being looked at as a hotzone—possibly a battleground—in the upcoming presidential race between President Obama and…whoever the Republican candidate might be. After a late surge in the polls, former Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses and seemed destined to make the inevitable anointing of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a nail-biter. It was the first time that’d been the case since 1988. And voters were getting ready for the November elections.
And so was the Pennsylvania GOP. By mid-January, they were working hard on bringing House Bill 934, the Voter ID legislation, up for consideration. This was despite the opposition of nearly every advocacy group in the state that didn’t represent business interests, rich people, and/or Republicans. The NAACP, the ACLU, Equality PA and several others protested and asked their supporters to call the Capitol on a regular basis, to block the bill. Equality PA noted Pennsylvania’s transgender community could be negatively affected by the restrictions.
And maybe all that pressure from the Voter ID coalition and others got to the proponents. Because every week of 2012 was something new: A number of those who’d be negatively affected by the law, demographic groups that’d feel it, hard-hits by Democratic legislators who opposed the law, and inevitable cringe-worthy gaffes by Republicans who once claimed they supported the bill to cut down on voter fraud, proven wrong by their own words.
By February, the bill still hadn’t seen the light of day. Which meant it wouldn’t be in place for the spring primary season. But on March 5, the Pennsylvania state Senate Appropriations Committee passed it by a 15-11 vote, with a single Republican joining all 10 Democrats.
“Here in Pennsylvania, since 2004 we’ve cast 20 million votes and had four convictions of fraud,” said State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), who sits on the committee. “This is a solution searching for a problem.”
In addition to those four counts of fraud, there’d only been 86 documented nationwide cases of voter identification fraud, between 2002 and 2007.
Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) correctly stated that Pennsylvania residents are more likely to be hit by lightning than commit voter fraud, during full Senate debate on the bill. Sen. Fontana (D-Allegheny) called the bill “a slap in the face of our democracy.” Sen. Farnese (D-Philadelphia) noted how interesting it was the governor couldn’t find any money for education, had managed to kick kids off state-run medical rolls and adults off Adult Basic — but had managed to find perhaps $11 million (which is how much the state estimated it’d cost to implement at that time) for Voter ID.
It broke through. A little. When the final vote came up, three Republicans crossed party lines to vote with Democrats. But that wasn’t enough to stop a legislative victory. The final tally was 26-23.
But the bill had been amended since state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s (D-Butler) original version had been introduced. Which meant it had to go back to the House before being sent to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk for signing.
And a week later, that happened. Holding a vast minority of seats, Democrats could not stop Republicans from holding a vote and passing the bill. One Republican member actually cited ACORN as a rationale for shoving the bill through in the first place. ACORN! Corbett promised to sign the bill that night—and he did—to make sure it’d be on the books by the November election.
The legislative and executive branches had spoken. But the fight for the judicial was on. And so was the massive push for statewide education. Because nothing feels better than beating your enemies at their own game, right?
Philadelphia good-government group the Committee of Seventy immediately released information on what you need to know to vote. A coalition of community organizations was formed to educate Pennsylvanians on the Voter ID law and training sessions were held, in which members were taught what to tell voters about their election day needs—and how to get it all done beforehand.
And the more people learned about voter ID over the spring, the scarier it became. Among those groups that could be negatively affected: The poor, minorities, women, the elderly. Or, as some liberal groups saw it: Their base.
“If a woman wants to change her name to vote, she has to produce her marriage license,” Faye Anderson, a voting rights activist who created a voter ID education app in 2012, noted to Philadelphia Weekly. “It’s possible that we can have a situation in which a voter in Pennsylvania without ID, a married woman who is now divorced, will have to stand in four separate lines to gather the documents that she would need to show voter ID.” And only 66 percent of women have a photo ID with their current name, due to marriage and divorce rates.
Similarly, many elderly minority men and women may have been born in the South at a time in which they were not given a birth certificate, and, therefore, were never issued proper ID to vote—or, if they were and lost it, cannot get the right documentation to obtain a license today. Same things for people born via midwives, in some cases.
In April, it was time for the Pennsylvania primary, and while poll workers were instructed to ask for identification, you weren’t required to show it.
By the end of the month, the ACLU announced it had a case against the Pennsylvania state government, and they intended to file a lawsuit. But first, Pennsylvania’s law would reach center stage, getting probed by the media, pundits, local government officials, advocacy groups, and the Department of Justice.
Monday: I think we’re “done” here.
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