Voter ID law upheld: New focus on outreach

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While many who protested Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law since its enactment in March continued to vent outrage following Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson’s ruling denying an injunction to stop what they say is a voter suppression law, others redoubled their efforts to make sure as many voters as possible can comply.

“Outreach is more important than ever now,” said Celeste Taylor just hours after the Aug. 15 ruling. “I have to stay focused on getting people in the community whatever they need to be able to exercise their rights.”

votewatch
VOTE WATCH—As partners including B-PEP President Tim Stevens, Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto and Alleghenians President Rev. Maureen Cross Bolden look on, Judge of Elections E. Richard Phipps explains the small details that can make an ID invalid and cost someone their vote. (Photo by Gail Manker.)

State Democratic Party Chair Jim Burn agreed, saying in a released statement that the party is committed to protecting the right to vote:

“We will continue to educate voters about the new ID requirements and the process to acquire an appropriate ID to ensure that all eligible voters can get to the polls and exercise their right to vote in November. For months, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has implemented programs designed to ensure Pennsylvanians have the proper identification and we will continue our work as the legal process unfolds.”

Jennifer Austin, Pennsylvania press secretary for the Obama/Biden campaign released a similar statement.

“Since the passage of the law our campaign has included information on the new provisions in volunteer trainings, information resources, online, and in voter registration and education activities and we will continue to do so,” she said. “Now more than ever it is important that the Commonwealth follow through on its plan to make available free IDs to any voter who may need them. Regardless of party affiliation, we support ensuring any voter eligible to cast a ballot has the right to do so.”

While it too promised to continue voter education efforts, the League of Women Voters—which along with the NAACP was a named petitioner in the case, continued to call Act 18 a voter suppression law.

“We are disappointed that the Pennsylvania court has upheld this voter suppression law. Recently, when similar laws in other states have been reviewed by a court or the U.S. Department of Justice they have been deemed to be discriminatory, and we believe this to be the case in Pennsylvania,” said LWV President Elisabeth MacNamara.

One of the first things Simpson noted in his denial of the injunction was the lack of discriminatory language in Act 18. Also, because statutes are presumed to be constitutional, those seeking a preliminary injunction against a given law must show it meets six distinct criteria.

Quoting precedents, Simpson wrote: “For a preliminary injunction to issue, every one of these prerequisites must be established; if the petitioner fails to establish any one of them, there is no need to address the others.”

Though he addressed four of these criteria, failure to meet the first—that the injunction will prevent “immediate and irreparable harm” was sufficient. With the law requiring the state to provide free IDs to the “significantly less than 9 percent” of registered voters without them, the availability of absentee voting, and for filing provisional ballots, both of which are also free, Simpson ruled the challenge failed this test.

A larger issue was though the challengers sought to prove Act 18 “facially unconstitutional,” meaning as written, they presented evidence of what might happen once it is applied. That is an entirely different kind of challenge, and cannot be made until after the law has been implemented.

In his 70-page denial, Simpson said the petitioners did an excellent job “putting a face” on the possible burden some might encounter. But such hypothetical situations are not enough. He wrote:

“At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for counsel. Rather, I must analyze the law, and apply it to evidence of facial unconstitutionality brought forth in the courtroom, tested by our adversarial system”

Joined by NAACP State Conference President Jerry Mondesire, who had led several rallies calling for implementation of the law to be halted, national NAACP President Ben Jealous also condemned the ruling.

“This law, like other state laws enacted across the U.S., has the potential to suppress thousands of votes in the Commonwealth during this election,” said Jealous. “The NAACP, in conjunction with its state conferences, will continue to combat these efforts on the ground and mobilize voters. We will have to fight for our right to vote again.”

Attorneys for the NAACP and several other groups filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court Aug. 16. An agreement by four of its seven members would be needed to overturn Simpson’s ruling. They have asked the court to hear oral arguments when it convenes in Philadelphia during the week of Sept. 10.

However, with Justice Joan Orie Melvin suspended pending a trial on corruption charges, the court is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans.

The US Department of Justice is also reviewing the law to see if it violates anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

The PA Department of Transportation lists the acceptable Photo IDs required by Act 18, at http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/voter/voteridlaw.shtml as well as forms and instructions on how those without one can a obtain free state photo ID.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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