Creating Hurdles, Pennsylvania Drops Efforts to Boost Voting

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.

Evidently, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has discovered my secret tactic. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that after the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the state's strict voter-ID law—a law many believe will result in fewer people being able to vote—Corbett's administration opted to abandon two different efforts intended to boost the vote. The state will no longer try to make online voter registration available this year, nor can those who need to vote absentee submit their applications online. That's a big deal. Pennsylvania doesn't just allow anyone to vote absentee; you have to show proof that you cannot be at the polls for one of the acceptable reasons. Without the online option, those needing an absentee ballot will have to either mail in their application or deliver it in person. Meanwhile, online registration simply streamlines the process, creating less paperwork and requiring less effort for the would-be voter. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, it's too much work to implement both the voter-ID law and these new reforms.

Let's just be clear on the situation here. These online systems make it easier to vote. Pennsylvania is not going to pursue those, because its hands are full with the voter ID-law that makes it harder to vote. The law, which requires voters to show a government-issued identification is among the strictest in the country; to get an ID in the Keystone state is no easy feat: It requires a birth certificate, Social Security card, as well as two proofs of address.

The state's inability to create these online systems casts doubt on just how able it will be to implement the more-complex voter-ID law. In his ruling on the constitutionality of the law, Judge Robert Simpson, who refused Wednesday to grant an injunction, argued the law would not inevitably disenfranchise voters because of the state's plan to introduce a new "card of last resort" for those who lack the documentation to get a standard ID. For those too frail or ill to get a card, Simpson said absentee voting should be available. State officials promised the new card would be ready by the end of August, while attorneys opposing the law pointed out there was no guarantee that deadline would be met. Simpson sided with what he called the "believable testimony" of the state (the lawsuit is now headed to the state Supreme Court).

But if the state cannot get the online systems up and running—something that they initially planned to have ready at the beginning of July—how much more difficult will it be to have the complicated new ID card ready in the next couple weeks? Without the card of last resort, those who cannot obtain a birth certificate or who have issues with name changes and other complications may not be able to vote.

The Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition, a volunteer group that has already started intensive outreach efforts, has learned not to educate voters on anything unless it's immediately available. At a training on the law, Ellen Kaplan, the policy director for the good-government group Committee of Seventy, was candid with attendees about the card of last resort. "I will tell you that the state promised online voter registration on July 1, it's still not up and running," she said. "If they say the [card of last resort] is happening, I hope it happens but I would not count on it."

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