Voter ID: How did we get here? Part IV
The trial over Voter ID in Pennsylvania began in late July 2012 and went about two weeks. It was pretty much uneventful, and everyone who’d been paying attention to the reporting of the issue probably didn’t get any new news. Although no one could really figure out how many people were going to be disenfranchised by the law—because that number matters, right?
Actually, it sorta does.
In mid-August, a judge ruled against those attempting to block the voter ID, saying they didn’t prove that there’d be “irreparable” damage inflicted on the commonwealth citizenry. The judge also took note of Rep. Turzai’s previous statement about the law helping Romney win the state, and noted that he “declined to infer that other members of the General Assembly shared the boastful views of Representative Turzai without proof that other members were present at the time the statements were made.”
The General Assembly wouldn’t be as kind with their words:
After the ruling, the ACLU immediately held a press call to explain what had happened—and to announce their appeal.
“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.
Other groups got in on it, too, including Jerry Modeshire of the Pennsylvania NAACP. “The way we read it, it was clearly tailored to fit this election,” he said. “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 appeal itself would go up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
And there was still the federal government, who were looking into the Pennsylvania law’s constitutionality. The Corbett Administration actually did get around to answering the feds. But when they did, they cited the New Black Panthers, passive aggressively telling Attorney General Holder that, when opening the letter, they thought it was about that 2008 Philadelphia voter intimidation case, which had, of course, already been figured out.
Then they basically told the Justice Department to go fuck themselves.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign was cleaning house in Pennsylvania, which was proving to be less of the battleground state everyone was hoping it’d be. The Romney campaign quietly moved their people out of the state toward the end of the summer, meaning that if the party as a whole believed, as Mike Turzai did, that Voter ID was part of the ground game in the commonwealth, well, now it was the whole thing.
By September, the state Supreme Court had a ruling on Voter ID, which essentially added up to, “we’re not taking responsibility for this.” They passed it back down to the Commonwealth Court.
Except.One thing changed. While in previous Commonwealth Court trial, it was up to the plaintiffs to prove they and others would be disenfranchised by the law, the Supreme Court sent the case back and put the burden of proof on the state. This meant Pennsylvania would have to prove it would be able to register those voters who wanted registering and provide enough IDs to those who need it by election day.
This was a win, it was said, because now the state would have to provide numbers, not assurances.
The state couldn’t do that. And on October 2, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson—the same judge who’d ruled in the state’s favor a month back—stayed the execution of the law, which meant it was still legal, and on the books, but would not be required during the November 2012 elections, even though election workers were required to ask for it. And then when you said no, they could be all, “Okie Dokie. Go vote.”
But there were still problems! Because the law was legal, technically, it was still featured on the State Department’s website (and still is today). Also, the Voter ID ads on buses, billboards and elsewhere, written in both English and Spanish, were everywhere. The ACLU went after the state for that, too, but naturally couldn’t get them all taken down by November.
And the state just couldn’t stop itself from fucking up. Additionally, they sent out fliers to more than 30,000 state workers telling them to bring their IDs to vote on election day. But the day passed and it was no big deal. But we hadn’t heard the last of the law.
Tomorrow: The conclusion! (For now.) What’s being argued and when we’ll know whether we’re a Voter ID state or not. And, should we be?
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