Eric Holder's New Fight Against Voter ID

Yesterday, Eric Holder opened a new front in his fight to preserve voting rights, as the Department of Justice announced that it would launch an investigation into Pennsylvania's voter ID law. The attorney general has been an outspoken critic of the strict new laws that require voters to show government-issued photo identification, calling them the equivalent of a modern-day "poll tax." The DOJ has blocked implementation of voter ID in Texas and South Carolina—states that, because of their histories of voter suppression, are listed in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and therefore must get preclearance from the DOJ before they can change their election laws. (Both states are fighting back in court.) But Pennsylvania, like half the states that have passed strict voter ID laws, does not need to get DOJ permission before it changes its election laws. Instead, the Justice Department has taken an entirely new line of attack.

In a letter to Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Commonwealth, the DOJ explained that it was reviewing the law to see if it complied with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voter discrimination. As I wrote yesterday, the DOJ faces a difficult fight using Section 2. While Section 5 allows the DOJ to preemptively stop laws that will have a discriminatory effect, in this case, the DOJ will have to convince a court (or more likely several courts) that the Pennsylvania law creates a significant barrier to voting that disproportionately hurts nonwhites. Though there's a lot of evidence that voter ID laws have a discriminatory impact on poor and nonwhite populations, it's harder to prove that before an election has even taken place, when there are no clear examples to point to; no one has already been denied the right to vote for lack of ID, and there's still time to get an ID if you don't have one. 

But Pennsylvania's voter ID law is so egregious that the DOJ evidently thinks it has a shot. If anyone entertained doubts that the law was a politically motivated effort by Republicans to suppress Democratic votes in a swing state, those doubts were dispelled when the state's House majority leader, Mike Turzai, explained that by passing voter ID, the legislature had ensured a Romney win in the state. The law, passed in March, requires voters to show a government-issued ID that has an expiration date, which knocks out several forms of identifcation including many college IDs. When the legislature debated the issue, state officials said only one percent of voters lacked a government-issued ID. But earlier this month, the state revealed that as many as 759,000 people—9 percent of registered voters—lack an ID from the Department of Transportation, the kind most voters will likely be using. That number skyrockets to 18 percent in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold and a city with a very high black population. More recently, a report from the state ACLU estimates the number of voters without IDs could be as high as a million people. The ACLU, along with several other groups, has already filed a lawsuit, arguing that Pennsylvania's law violates the "free and equal" elections clause in the state constitution and adds a new burden to voters.

In its letter, the DOJ requests 16 different sets of documents, including a list of those lacking the necessary ID. It asks for the documents that support both the governor's claim in March that "99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs"—and documents to support the subsequent study showing that number was off by a mile. 

Of course, we don't know if the DOJ will actually bring suit after it reviews the documents. But it has already sent a signal that just because states don't require preclearance, they can't get a free pass to create barriers to voting.

 

Comments

Voter ID laws (which Dear Voter should know by now that Abby Rapoport and liberal papers like the Texas Observer, Molly Ivins' old homestead, oppose) should probably be called Voter Protection laws. I'll explain.

In colonial times, the vote was reserved for the landed gentry -- men (in practice if not in statute) who owned property could vote and no one else could. Wives, children, renters, Indians, slaves, and criminals could not vote, and this was done for different reasons. It was assumed that a landowner had a legitimate stake in the community -- that the wives and children wouldn't have the education or mental capacity needed to vote, that renters were passers-by who could be too easily influenced, Indians were not citizens and did not live under our laws, and slaves could be influenced by their masters.

The colonies became U.S. states. Our traditions changed to permit renters to vote, Slavery ended with the Civil War, and the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were scuttled. Women were allowed the vote. Indians accepted our laws and gained citizenship, The voting age was lowered to 18 in 1971.

I repeat that Indians were denied the vote originally because they didn't live under our laws. However, according to the US Census Bureau, 12 million people are called "US persons" because they live here permanently but they are not US citizens and are not in the country legally. These people are illegal aliens. They do not keep our laws., and they should never, EVER be allowed to vote.

You should be aware, Dear Voter, that in 13 states and DC, convicted felons automatically become eligible to vote after their release from prison. In two additional states, Maine and Vermont, felons are allowed to vote (absentee ballot) while they are in prison. Eighteen more states require probation and parole to be satisfied first, and in twelve states felons may lose their votes forever. In ten states, people convicted of misdemeanors are not permitted to vote.

But as an American, though 50 states have different laws, you don't have a federal right to vote in any of them. The Constitution makes no such guarantee. And so long as 1 in 25 of us are not citizens, one would think that the best way to protect the vote would be to keep people who are non-citizens from voting.

Isn't it a little bit strange how Americans are so allergic to government ID cards? Mexicans are very familiar with voter ID cards from their home country and Mexico has spent many millions of dollars developing tamper-proof picture ID just for this purpose. You can be sure that these illegal aliens really do have identification (back home in Mexico, but they won't bring it here.) Government-issued ID is still easy to get in the USA, and it's still cheap.

Awww, you say, but what about people who are so poor they don't have $20? You're calling "poll tax" on these evil states for the ludicrous demand that poll workers know who voters are at the time of voting. Poll tax! Poll tax! *Evil* poll tax! But wait-a-second, these folks can stay home, write a letter requesting an absentee ballot, and send it back in -- total cost is what, 55 or 60 cents? They don't even need gas money.

This is where the argument falls apart, because the opposition to real voter ID is not focused on genuine racism or concern for the poor. The only rationale for opposition is to provide a mechanism where a random person can walk into a voting precinct, cast an illegal ballot, and avoid any scrutiny.

The smoke screen often used by the progressives is that the average Joes and Josephines out there are hopeless; they can't do anything for themselves. But let's flesh this out, shall we? They can't get a decent education or a good job, stay non-pregnant for the entire school year, get housing, healthcare, daycare, or a car, and pretty soon they're old and their only regret is that since they never worked or drove and the dog ate their birth certificate (hey, it's a tacky excuse but if the President can use it then so can anyone) so now that they are 80 years old they want to vote for the first time and they can't.

One of the best things about the poll tax is that it cleaned up the voter rolls rather nicely. LBJ could work his magic and raise the town's dead citizens long enough to vote alphabetically for him, but he could not press a couple of bucks in their bony little hands because that's too much. We are talking about fraud, and we don't know how much the Obama people are willing to spend to steal this election, but doubtless it is a lot; so we think the voters should actually have to have a little plastic card with their picture on it, and the workers should look at the picture, and somebody who tries to vote illegally. ...

Should. Go. To. Prison.

Mr. Myerson truthfully answer this question: Which is worse, a vote counted that should not have been or a vote not counted that should have been?

My apology for misspelling your name.

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