Partial Victory in Pennsylvania

Via the Washington Post, although I am sure you can find it wherever you prefer to get your news:

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday ordered state officials not to enforce the commonwealth’s tough new voter-ID law in the November election, a political victory for Democrats who say the measure is an attempt to discourage support for President Obama in a battleground state.


Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who upheld Pennsylvania’s law when he first considered it this summer, ruled Tuesday that state officials had not made enough progress in supplying photo IDs for those who lack them. He said it seemed likely that some otherwise qualified voters would be disenfranchised.

So the law has been postponed until after this years election, meaning that you will not have to show ID to vote in Pennsylvania this year.  That’s what we wanted, right?  So why is it only a partial victory?

Well, two things.  First, Judge Simpson ruled that poll workers can still ask voters for ID.  The poll workers have to allow you to cast a normal ballot (no provisional ballot mess) whether you have ID or not.  This could cause all sorts of problems.  People in line without ID could hear the poll workers asking those in front of them for ID and then assume that since they don’t have it that they won’t be allowed to vote, causing them to get out of line and leave.  Some could get to the front of the line and then leave after saying no to the question, mistakenly assuming that the poll workers asked them the question for an actual reason.  And perhaps more concerning, poll workers may end up turning away people without ID because of poor training and/or confusion over the law.

All of those possibilities become significantly more likely due to the second issue:  Pennsylvania’s ad campaign for the new law.  From MSNBC:

But the ruling did not address the state’s $5 million advertising campaign telling voters that they’ll need an ID to vote. One TV ad that last month was running across the state says: “To vote in Pennsylvania on Election Day, you need an acceptable photo ID with a valid expiration date,” and tells voters to “show it.”

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Carol Aichele said the ad campaign would go on. “We will continue our education and outreach efforts, as directed by the judge in his order, to let Pennsylvanians know the voter ID law is still on track to be fully implemented for future elections, and we urge all registered voters to make sure they have acceptable ID,” said Aichele.

Asked for clarification, Aichele spokesman Matthew Keeler told Lean Forward, via email: “We are looking into the media campaign to transition and update information and ads to continue to educate voters and prepare for election day.”


Still, supporters of the law are claiming that changing the campaign would be impractical. “It’s already in the works,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Turzai, a Republican, told Lean Forward. “How do you just pull it back?”

But voting-rights advocates say if the state doesn’t do so, the result could be widespread confusion, leading some voters to stay away from then polls because they wrongly believe they need ID.

“There is a concern on our side about the possibility of misinformation going out,” David Gersch, a lawyer for civil-rights groups challenging the law, told reporters on a conference call. If there’s confusion about whether an ID is needed, he added, “folks may just stay home.”

Gersch and other voting-rights lawyers on the case said they might pursue further legal action if the state won’t assure them it’ll change the ad campaign, though they’re hopeful that won’t be necessary.

Of course, none of this chaos would be happening if it wasn’t for the GOP’s brave contingent of anti-voter fraud warriors* insisting that this law needed to be rammed through and in place for the 2012 election cycle, even though in person voter fraud, which is the only type ID laws could have any effect on, doesn’t really exist**.

But ram they did, and then they took out an ad campaign that insured that no matter what the court ruling on the law would be, part of the damage from the law would already be done.  From on July 8th: (Bolding, for once, is in the original article)

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett‘s administration has signed a $249,660 contract with a company run by Mitt Romneyfundraiser, former state GOP party executive director, pharmaceutical lobbyist, and school voucher advocate Chris Bravacos to direct a media campaign promoting the state’s Voter ID law.

Yes, that very same law, requiring that voters present identification at the polls, which critics contend will suppress Democratic-leaning non-white, poor, elderly and youth voters and which House Majority Leader Mike Turzai recently boasted (video) is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

One sample PSA on the Bravo Group‘s Vimeo page portrays voter ID as just the latest installment in a bright history of American voting rights, and features anodyne black and white photos―including one of suffragettes. Another spot portrays a lot of shiny-toothed middle class models holding ID cards. [note: Bravo removed the two videos this morning but Occupy Harrisburg has reposted them here and here.]

The tagline? “Your right to vote: it’s one thing you never want to miss out on.”

So the law is halted for this election, but how much damage has already been done is unknown.  I hope Gov. Corbett proves me wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that the state is not going to spend the same amount of time and money telling voters they don’t need ID than they did telling them they did need ID.  You know, since the law itself was a naked partisan attempt at voter suppression.

The job ahead of us in PA is simple.  Get this information out there.  Make sure every PA voter knows that they don’t need an ID to vote this election, no matter what they hear and no matter what any poll workers tell them.  I’d bet my last dollar that shady right wing groups will unleash robo-calls in the weeks prior to the election claiming that ID is required.  We need to make sure PA residents know the facts.


*Strange how the GOP’s brave contingent of anti-voter fraud warriors doesn’t have much to say about the voter registration scandal caused by the GOP hiring a group known to engage in practices that range from questionable to outright illegal, is it not?

**Don’t believe me?  Here is the state admitting there is no problem with in-person voter fraud from TPM.

The state signed a stipulation agreement with lawyers for the plaintiffs which acknowledges there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.”

Additionally, the agreement states Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.”




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