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.
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 shouldplease folks on both sides of the political divide.
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.
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.
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?