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Bad News for Voting Rights in Swing States | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

Bad News for Voting Rights in Swing States

Pennsylvania is a large, crucial swing state that leans a bit more Democratic than its neighbor Ohio. President Obama must win Pennsylvania if he is to retain the White House. That’s about to become more difficult.

Republicans in Pennsylvania’s state Senate passed a bill Wednesday—on a mostly party-line vote—to require that voters show photo identification in order to vote. Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, supports the bill and will sign it into law once the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives passes it. Voter identification laws disenfranchise those without a photo ID. Multiple studies have shown that people without IDs are more likely to belong to a Democratic-leaning constituency, such as low-income, minority or young voters. It can also fall especially hard on people with disabilities and the elderly. That’s why Democrats oppose such a law. And as the Associated Press reports, “Counties, civil liberties advocates, labor unions, the AARP and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also objected to the bill.”

The AP also notes, “The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania has warned lawmakers that adding the additional step of requiring poll workers to check photo IDs will create longer Election Day lines at polling places.” Long lines at polling booths can cause people to give up and go home. That happened in many Ohio polling places in 2004. Some experts, such as Mark Crispin Miller of New York University, argue that those problems in Ohio may have thrown the election to President Bush.

The Pennsylvania bill is actually more moderate than many of its progenitors in states such as Georgia. Valid identification includes a student ID card from a Pennsylvania college or university, identification from a personal care home or employee cards for county or municipal workers. Voters without identification will be able to cast provisional ballots. However, they would then have to return within six days to prove their eligibility. Such an onerous burden will often go unmet, meaning votes will be thrown out.

Pennsylvania would become the third-largest state, after Texas and Florida, to require voters to produce photo identification. Florida is another large, important swing state. Voting rights have long been a contentious issue in Florida. Many Democrats and civil rights leaders believe that Governor Jeb Bush’s administration allowed George W. Bush to beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000 by ordering a purge of the names of felons from voting rolls. Such purges often ensnare legitimate voters with the same names and prevent them from voting. Thanks to the War on Drugs, felons in Florida are disproportionately black and Latino, as are people with the misfortune to share their names.

African-American Democratic state senators in Florida are trying to find ways to expand opportunities for citizens to vote, but Republicans are stymieing them. As the Miami Herald reported on Wednesday:

Deciding that the proposal was off topic, Senate leaders refused to allow African-American senators to tag a proposal expanding early voting onto voter identification legislation.

Sen. Chris Smith, D-Ft. Lauderdale, filed an amendment to HB 1461 that would have given counties the option of opening early voting locations on the Sunday before an election day. Last year, the Legislature approved sweeping new election law that, among other things, limited early voting hours and prohibited early voting within 72 hours of an election. 

Don’t worry, though, that Florida Senate Republicans have abandoned civil rights altogether. They made sure to amend the bill to prevent voting clerks from scanning the photo IDs they require voters to show. As the Herald reports:

Senators approved a different amendment sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. That proposal allows voters to opt out of having their driver licenses scanned at the polls.

The state’s supervisors of elections requested the option of scanning licenses, saying it will expedite the registration process during high-turnout election days. But Negron said civil liberties were at stake and people should be allowed to vote without potentially giving poll workers access to private information.

“This is the defining moment of the Libertarian caucus of the Senate,” Negron said while urging senators to approve his amendment.

It passed on a voice vote, eliciting cheers from conservative senators.

“Freedom,” Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, shouted after the vote while pumping his fists in the air.

This is a twofer for Republicans: they get to pose as defenders of small government, while ensuring long lines thanks to the ID requirement. Tea Party Republicans say they support civil liberties, but they make a big exception for the right to vote.

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