Abby Rapoport

In Pennsylvania, a Victory for Voting Rights—Sorta


It's a lot easier to talk about a law—and pass one—than to implement it. Just ask Pennsylvania lawmakers—and Pennsylvania citizens, and judges, and voting-rights activists. 

The state's voter ID law, passed by Republican lawmakers in March, is best known for threatening to disenfranchise more voters than laws in any other stae. But in mid-August, Pennsylvania Judge Robert Simpson refused to grant an injunction to stop the state from implementing the law in November. The judge said that he believed state officials' assurances that they had plans in place (though some were still not in action) to prevent widespread disenfranchisement. 

How We Should (Voter) Roll


David Becker is unusual in national politics. He talks about inaccuracies in voting rolls, dead people still registered, and the like. He says the bad information is a big problem. But he's not on the far right talking about voter fraud or the need for major purges to the states' rolls before an election. Instead, he's the director of election initiatives for the non-partisan Pew Center on the States. And his research tells him that better data would actually help more people vote—and make elections a smoother, more efficient process that should please folks on both sides of the political divide. 

In Pennsylvania, Voting Rights on Trial—Again


Hey—remember Pennsylvania's voter-ID law? The really strict one that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters? The controversy over the law died down in mid-August, when a commonwealth court ruled the law would stand. Since then, however, the voting rights advocates who'd filed suit appealed to the state's Supreme Court. There, on Thursday, justices heard the case. But it garnered little in the way of headlines.

Defenders of the Vote

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

You know you’re in a fledgling campaign office the moment you step off the street and into one of the plainest buildings in Germantown, a mostly black Philadelphia neighborhood that contains several Colonial landmarks. Along garish, peach-colored walls are maps of every inch of the city: council districts, wards, divisions, recreation centers. Mismatched tables sit empty, waiting for soon-to-be-installed phones that volunteers will use to call number after number. In one corner of the back office, there’s even a double megaphone ready to perch atop a van and spread the message.

Rather than touting a candidate, though, this campaign’s volunteers will be spreading news that they hate: Hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Philadelphia, and hundreds of thousands more across the state, are in danger of losing their voice in the November election. Welcome to the world of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, made up of 140 organizations—churches, labor unions, civic groups—which began training volunteers in July. The group’s job is to let voters know that, thanks to a law passed in March, they will have to carry a government-issued picture ID to the polls to ensure that their vote counts. The coalition will also help voters who lack the proper ID to acquire one—a process that is, in some cases, time-consuming and complicated.

Swing-State Scare Tactics

(AP Photo/Marc Levy)

We’ve heard a lot about debates over strict voter-ID legislation this cycle, but there’s an even more pressing problem in some parts of the country: intimidation at the ballot box. In addition to pushing for these voter-ID laws—which require citizens to show a government-issued ID before casting their ballot—conservative groups like True the Vote have alleged widespread voter fraud, recruiting volunteers to act as poll watchers and look for any signs of illegality from voters. True the Vote has also pushed volunteers to comb through the voter rolls for signs of fraud. It's left many worried about the likelihood of scaring voters away from the polls.

It all begs the question: What laws are on the books to protect the right to vote?

States of Play

Of all election outcomes, state legislative races are the likeliest to have a direct impact on the lives of voters. But you wouldn’t know it from the national press. The morning after the 2010 elections, Americans woke up to headlines about a Republican landslide; most of those stories focused on Congress, where a new GOP House majority promised to fight President Barack Obama tooth and nail. What didn’t make so many front pages were Republicans’ historic victories at the state level, as the party wrested control of 21 house and senate chambers from the Democrats. North Carolina had its first Republican senate since 1870; Alabama hadn’t seen a Republican legislature since Reconstruction.

Why Partisans and Election Law Shouldn't Mix: See Ohio

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Last June, Ohio’s Republican state legislators sought to pass an extremely strict voter ID law, with deeply disturbing implications for minority voters. It would have been among the strictest in the nation, requiring voters to show a government-issued ID with virtually no recourse for those lacking the necessary documents. But the opposition came from an unexpected place—Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Julian Castro's Great Expectations

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result.

Did Hubris Kill Texas's Photo ID Law?

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

In a unanimous decision on Thursday, a panel of three federal judges knocked down the Texas voter-ID law, which would have required voters to show a form of government-issued photo identification. The state will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but the news is yet another blow to the law, which the Justice Department already determined would disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. The Department of Justice estimated that between 600,000 and 800,000 registered voters would be affected. Those with Hispanic surnames were far more likely than whites to not have the requisite identification.

Ann Romney's Fail

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Early in their careers, almost all journalists hear the same piece of advice: Show, don’t tell. Give an anecdote, provide some detail, offer something that demonstrates the point you’re trying to make.

It would have been good advice for Ann Romney.

Seriously, There's Good News For Ohio Voters

(AP Photo/ Dayton Daily News, Bill Reinke)

For voting rights activists, the news coming out of Ohio hasn't been promising—the secretary of state has limited early voting hours and a state law stopped all voting the three days before Election Day. Both decisions have a disproportionate impact on poor and nonwhite voters, who vote in particularly heavy numbers during the early period.

But Monday brought some good news for vote defenders in the Buckeye State. In 2008, around 14,000 voters had their ballots thrown out because they cast provisional ballots in the wrong precinct. Often, it was a poll worker who had made the error, but it was the voter who was punished. But thanks to an injunction granted by a U.S. district judge Monday, that measure will not be in effect in the 2012 elections.

Voter-ID Fight Gets Down to the Wire in Wisconsin

(Flickr/Bethany Weeks)

We may be months away from Election Day, but in states fighting legal battles over newly minted voter-ID laws, time is short. These laws, which require residents to show government-issued identification to vote, have been shown to disenfranchise poor and minority voters in the first place. But as I've written before, the timeframe for implementing them poses another major problem; just look at Pennsylvania, where volunteers and activists are rushing to inform residents about a voter-ID law passed in March. The fact is, comprehensive voter-education efforts can hardly be conducted in two months. It is this basic issue—whether there is enough time to properly implement voter-ID laws before November 6—that has kept voter-ID from going into effect in many states. 

Texas Says "No Thanks" to Women's Health Care

(AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)

If you haven't been worn down reading about Todd Akin's bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women's uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women's access to health care is already poor.

Creating Hurdles, Pennsylvania Drops Efforts to Boost Voting

(Flickr/Phil Romans)

There are a number of strategies that can get you out of things you don't want to do. But the stand-by procedure—the most fool-proof—is one I like to call "The Wait for a Distraction." Put off the work—say you'll do it soon. Eventually, something else is bound to come up, and in dealing with that, your task will be forgotten. The savvy child may never have to mow the lawn again.