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Voting Rights Watch

Voting Rights Watch

In-depth coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide, in partnership with Colorlines.com.

Texas Has to Chill With War on Voting Rights Act

Challenging the Department of Justice’s rejection of Texas’s proposed photo voter ID laws wasn’t enough. No, Texas had to challenge the Voting Rights Act itself, particularly Section 5, which grants the federal government special powers to oversee election law changes in states and counties that have troublesome histories with voter discrimination. The state of Texas preemptively challenged the constitutionality of Section 5, meaning they filed a lawsuit to have it overturned before they even heard back from DOJ about whether their voter ID law would be cleared. This is a clear frontal attack on the keystone of one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation achieved in the United States.

A three-judge panel determined that it would consider Texas’s challenge of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act only after the lawsuit concerning their photo voter ID law is reconciled. But Texas isn’t playing nice in that lawsuit. Last week, the state’s attorney general Greg Abbott opposed releasing twelve state legislators — sponsors of the voter ID bill — for depositions requested by DOJ’s civil rights division attorneys. DOJ has requested the depositions, along with any written communications between state legislators about the bill, so that they can investigate whether there was any discriminatory intent behind creating it. Abbott is stiff-arming DOJ, though saying in a court filing:

If litigants can depose individual legislators and traipse through every communication of those legislators simply by alleging that a state law was enacted with an impermissible purpose, then state lawmakers will be chilled from engaging in the communications necessary to perform their jobs properly.

The bold is mine. I want to point out that Abbott’s statement shows that he recognizes what suppression means. His point about the chill effect that a DOJ investigation would bring is his attempt to say that such examinations would suppress job performance by making legislators scared to candidly discuss legislation before creating laws, which is their primary job.

This is a weak argument. Any state legislator knows that they are not so above federal laws that their communications can’t be scrutinized. Such scrutiny doesn’t even need to come from the Department of Justice; it can come from any citizen who files a freedom of information act request if they have the same questions or concerns about a questionable law. It’s this kind of transparency and accountability that is worked into government to ensure that it doesn’t do something like, I don’t know, return to black codes and Jim Crow laws of the past.

But I’d like to also point out that the same “chill effect” that Abbot is concerned about is the same chill that protectors of voting rights are concerned about when it comes to photo voter ID law, especially in Texas. The major concern is that it’s hard enough to get people out to the polls, and there are regularly a number of factors that, for whatever reason, lead people to elect to stay home rather than vote on election day. Those factors could be a misinformation and confusion around election rules or even a bad weather day. For Latino-Americans, there can be fear around whether the level of exposure and vulnerability involved with obtaining or even showing an ID card will lead to a false arrest, or worst a deportation — this is especially true in states with hostile laws against immigrants.

In South Carolina, where DOJ civil rights attorneys are also entangled with the state in lawsuits around their photo voter ID laws, the League of Women voters is asking to join the ACLU in a legal challenge to the state’s proposed law. As stated in their court filing:

Because the photo identification requirement chills and in some cases prevents voting, it is directly at odds with the League’s primary mission of facilitating civic participation.

Again, bold is mine. The criteria for photo voter IDs in states like Texas and South Carolina are classic definitions of a “chill effect,” which anyone who is truly worried about the integrity of elections should be against. If Abbott and Texas legislators don’t want to be subjected to that chill effect, then they shouldn’t subject their voters to it.

Are Voter ID Laws the New Jim Crow?

Over the weekend, David Goodman, brother of the Freedom Summer civil rights activist Andrew Goodman who was killed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964 for trying to help register African Americans to vote, wrote an op-ed in the Mississippi *Clarion-Ledger * equating new photo voter ID laws to the Jim Crow laws of last century. Lamenting the voter ID law that Mississippi voter residents voted into existence through ballot referendum — though African Americans voted against it in droves — Goodman recalled the wretched history of violence visited upon black Southerners who were merely trying to exercise their rights. Wrote Goodman:

These new Jim Crow photo ID laws are being promoted in states controlled by Republicans, the Party of Lincoln. Any party can carry out voter suppression - but it’s always wrong. It was wrong in 1964 and it is wrong today.

As much as I appreciate Goodman’s opinion, and his courage to continue the work of his slain brother in championing the rights of African Americans to vote, I have to beg to differ with his framing of the issue. Photo voter ID laws are bad policies, and they have serious potential to suppress voter turnout for millions of people, mostly people of color, low-income citizens, elderly populations and college students. But this is not the equivalent of Jim Crow.

With all due respect to Goodman and dozens of other pundits who’ve tagged photo voter ID laws with Jim Crow’s name, the situation is terrible enough on its own merits and doesn’t need extra special effects for legitimacy. Jim Crow laws permanently disenfranchised citizens by placing insurmountable barriers that were mostly impossible to overcome to keep African Americans from voting and living freely with equal protection under the law — barriers that were mostly reinforced violently through the terror of groups like the Ku Klux Klan. We should never trivialize that fact.

Current photo voter ID laws that are sweeping across the nation, or at least any legislature with a Republican stronghold, are no trivial matter, either. But it’s hard to make the case that they rise to the level of Jim Crow violence, and even given certain similarities, it doesn’t really help the cause of those fighting to protect voting rights to hyperbolize the movement. Sticking to the facts are enough.

Political science professor Richard L. Hasen, author of the upcoming book The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdownwrote recently on his Election Law Blog that “Democrats err and overreach with the Jim Crow analogies.” I agree. Hasen was commenting on statements made by Philadelphia Young Democrats president Malik Boyd. The same analogy was made recently by Rev. Al Sharpton during this month’s Selma-to-Montgomery march against voter ID laws.

Don’t get me wrong — I get it. Any law that disproportionately impacts minorities in a way that could potentially lead to discriminatory effects should be shamed away, pro-actively, early and often. But we don’t need to brand voter ID laws with the mark of Satan just to make the point that this is really bad policy. The facts speak resoundingly clear for themselves, and no one is being lynched on their way to applying for a driver’s license to vote.

That all said, I would like to turn attention to a problem that really does deserve the “New Jim Crow” brand: felony disenfranchisement. Michelle Alexander detailed a clear-cut argument for why people who have paid their price to society through prison time — often for trivial “crimes” — deserve to have their rights fully restored, particularly their voting rights, in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Alexander’s use of the term is not hyperbole. We’re talking about millions of people, the overwhelming most of whom are African Americans who in most states are permanently barred from voting, not to mention other services like receiving public benefits. These felony disenfranchisement laws have been on the books for decades, and in many states like Tennessee, it’s written into the constitution.

Writes Alexander in her book:

No other country in the world disenfranchises people who are released from prison in a manner even remotely resembling the United States. … Throughout much of the United States, ex-offenders are expected to pay fines and court costs, and submit paperwork to multiple agencies in an effort to win back a right that should never have been taken away in a democracy. These bureaucratic minefields are the modern-day equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests — “colorblined” rules designed to make voting a practical impossibility for a group defined largely by race.

Today, many non-felonized voters will have to jump through hoops and hurdles to get the necessary kind of ID needed to vote in the 2012 election, and some may elect not to do the jumping, hence the suppression. But there are no alternatives for millions experiencing felony-ism, losing basic rights even after having served their due time in prison. Let’s not conflate the two, or confuse present problems with past catastrophes. We don’t need to water down the name of “Jim Crow” to show that new voter ID laws potentially and very likely will have burdensome effects on voters of color.

Hans Von Spakovsky’s False Conclusions About Georgia’s Voter ID Impacts

In my last blog I said that Georgia has a unique situation in terms of its voter ID law, which was put into effect in 2007. As is often cited by photo voter ID law proponents, voter turnout did in fact increase between the 2004 presidential elections, which did not feature a photo voter ID mandate, and the 2008 presidential elections, which did. The numbers on this can not be refuted, and Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky often excitedly refers to the Georgia case when making his pro-voter ID arguments and did so in a recent blog.

Citing recent voter turnout data released by Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp in a presentation he made before the Conservative Leadership Conference of the Civitas Institute on March 2 to rally North Carolina up for passing a voter ID bill:


Von Spakovsky noted that “Georgia had the largest turnout of minority voters in its history,” and then drew the conclusion, “As shown by these data … voter ID requirements can be easily met by almost all voters and do not have a discriminatory or disparate impact on racial minorities.” The message sent: Georgia 2008 voter turnout was good; therefore voter ID laws are good.

These are specious conclusions to draw at best because it relies on a non-existent causation or correlation between the implementation of the state’s voter ID law and voter turnout without controlling for other factors such as the growth in voting age population and the growth in the number of people registered to vote during the same period.

I spoke with Charles S. Bullock III, the Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia who said that the state’s voter ID law “is not a cause” for the increase in minority voter turnout and “that you can’t build a case for a causal link” between the implementation of the voter ID law and the increase in minority voter turnout. In fact, voter turnout would have increased in Georgia in the 2008 presidential election with or without the voter ID law for a number of other factors, says Lubbock, including a “gradual increase” in the voting-age population of African Americans, and also the excitement around the possible election of the nation’s first black president. But this does not mean that everyone was able to “easily” get an ID card.

“Obama’s candidacy was certainly a major factor in promoting” voter participation in 2008, says Lubbock. But also the unprecedented number of black voters registered for the 2008 elections in Georgia was a significant factor. Says Lubbock: “There was a huge increase in black registration in Georgia [for the 2008 elections] also. The Obama campaign began to register African Americans early on in December of 2007 in anticipation of the Georgia primary, which came early that year [Super Tuesday, February 5] and their aggressive voter registration efforts continued all the way up to when the books closed in October 2008.”

This is consistent with the conclusion reached in the academic study “Achieving Validation: Barack Obama and Black Turnout in 2008,” by M. V. Hood III of the University of Georgia and Seth C. McKee of the University of South Florida. In that study, published in a recent edition of State Politics & Policy Quarterly, they state that almost a quarter of the record high black turnout in the state “is due to the mobilization of new voters in the year prior to the election. In addition, the mobilization efforts of the Obama campaign are also evident among registrants who had not participated in the 2004 presidential contest.”

The increase in Georgia’s minority voter turnout was due to large increases in voter registration and the excitement around the Obama campaign, despite the voter ID law, but not because of it. And while Von Spakovsky argues that the turnout increase for African Americans “far outpaced the growth rate” of their total population, he uses the ten-year census period (2000-2010) growth rate to measure against voter turnout growth between 2004 and 2008. It’s a flawed statement to say that growth in voter turnout “far outpaces” total population growth when using two different baselines. But if you’re going to use the ten-year baseline, total population growth isn’t what you measure by — you measure by the total voting-age population, which for African Americans was almost 31 percent.

Does that mean that voter ID law requirements were “easily met by almost all voters” and that they don’t have a “discriminatory or disparate impact on racial minorities,” as Von Spakovsky asserts? Of course not. The statistics he cites on voter turnout says something only about those who made it successfully to the polls to vote, and says nothing about those who stayed at home either because they thought they wouldn’t be eligible to vote or because they didn’t have the means and resources to obtain the necessary materials to be eligible.

In Van Spakovsky’s argument, because there were relatively few people who applied for free voting identification cards each year since the law went into effect, then that must mean there are relatively few people who needed the ID to begin with. He provides this table, which like the one above, was created by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp:


Says Von Spakovsky: “This completely contradicts the unsupported claims of voter ID opponents that there are hundreds of thousands of voters in every state who do not have a photo ID.”

No, it doesn’t. The numbers above only says something about those who were privileged to be issued a voting card, but nothing about those who either didn’t bother to pursue a card, or who did but wasn’t issued one. Lubbock agrees that looking at the number of people who were issued voting IDs in a given year is an inaccurate gauge for measuring the number of people who need them. He further reminded me that in Georgia you don’t need an ID to vote absentee — which itself is a subject for exploration if talking voter fraud, but one that voter ID laws don’t necessarily address. Note also that the table above only shows the number of IDs issued, but not as a percentage of IDs applied for. Von Spakovsky’s, and Kemp’s, chart explains nothing about those who didn’t have the appropriate ID to vote in 2008 and couldn’t get one.

The issue is access, and as we noted in the Texas case, there are thousands of Latino voters who may not be able to access the necessary ID for voting without burdens because they live dozens, if not hundreds of miles away from a driver’s license office. Some will have trouble with access because the driver’s license offices close to them don’t stay open past hours that a typical person would be working. And then there are all the other burdens related to costs and finding the necessary documents (birth, marriage certificates, etc.) in place that must be factored in. This is what is meant by voter suppression.

Texas and Georgia are two different states, but the barriers explained above relating to transportation, working hours and costs can be applied anywhere that you have populations of low-income, lack of transportation or people with complicated documentation issues due to name changes, address changes or citizenship status.

This is not to say that minorities in Georgia definitely are discriminated against beyond a shadow of a doubt in their quest to vote due to the state’s voter ID laws. This is to say that the conclusions Von Spakosvky arrives at regarding voter ID laws being fair for all and devoid of any suppression effect are ill-informed.


Latino Support Versus Latino Access to ID For Voting Purposes

In our post about the Department of Justice’s rejection of Texas’s photo voter ID law I highlighted the comment of Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans Von Spakovsky who said the ruling was wrong because, “The Texas law isn’t any different than the Georgia and Indiana voter ID laws,” which were both allowed to go into effect. This is obviously wrong based off the clear differences in the demographics and ID law requirements between the states. But in the Latino Decisions blog today, scholars Gabriel R. Sanchez, Stephen A. Nuño and Matt A. Barreto pointed out yet another glaring difference. As read in their post “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Access to Photo-ID in Texas”:

The Texas case is based on the requirement of the Voting Rights Act that jurisdictions that have a history of suppressing minority voting, such as Texas, must provide evidence that any changes to voting rules would not have a disproportionate effect on minority voters. This is an important difference from the Crawford v. Marion County Election Board decision of the Supreme Court which upheld the stringent photo identification policy for voters of Indiana, but did not involve the higher standards of the Voting Rights Act.

Voter ID proponents need to be careful in comparing the Indiana photo voter ID law (as referenced above by the Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case) to Texas as these are not apples-to-apples comparisons. When dealing with states like Texas, which are subject to Section 5 under VRA, these laws have to survive thresholds that prove they have no discriminatory effect on voters of color, lest they begin to resemble Jim Crow voter practices of the past. A better comparison is Texas to Florida, which both have huge Latino populations (though clear differences in ethnic compositions) and both have covered jurisdictions under the Voting Rights Act for past voting discrimination. Georgia is a unique case and I’ll get to that in another blog.

Meanwhile, the way to measure discriminatory impacts is to use data to find out how many minorities — Latino Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans — would face barriers to their right to vote. The Department of Justice gave plenty of such data in their letter to Texas and much of it mirrored the findings of Sanchez, Nuno and Barreto whose report a year ago found that there were substantial differences between white and minority populations when it comes to having ID that would pass muster under various states’ photo voter ID laws.

While that report dealt with multiple states (including Texas and Florida) where large populations of voters of color reside, today’s Latino Decisions blog extrapolates the data of Texas to show just what the discrepancies are between black, Latino and white likely voters and their IDs in that state alone. When asked if the names on their photo IDs match names on Texas’ voter rolls, just 88 percent of Latino Texans and 84 percent of black Texans said their IDs did. Asked the same about matching addresses between IDs and voter rolls, 86 percent of Latino Texans and 76 percent of black Texans said their IDs would qualify. This means that as many as 14 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of African Americans in Texas have IDs that won’t qualify them to vote.


Contrast this with a recent report about Latino voters in Florida from the conservative Resurgent Republic, which claimed in January that 89 percent of “Hispanic” voters support the state’s voter ID laws. Florida and Texas are obviously two very different states, with Florida’s Latino population consisting more of Cuban Americans and Texas more so Mexican-American. But I’m curious about how Resurgent Republic’s findings would change if instead of asking about Latino “support” for voter ID laws, they asked about access, as the scholars at Latino Decisions did.

Discriminatory impacts rely more on whether people of color can access something and almost not at all about whether they support it. I know a lot of parents who support “school choice” and vouchers, until they realize they can’t access certain schools, voucher or not. Latino Americans in Florida may support these laws, but if they encounter the same problems in terms of non-matching names and addresses that are found in Texas, they can be found barred from voting just the same.

Kris Kobach and the Connection Between Restrictive Voting and Immigration Laws

If you think the metastasizing problem of photo voter ID laws has no connection to anti-immigrant, “illegal alien” paranoia, one need only examine the example of Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach. Not satisfied with the strict photo voter ID bill he helped become law in Kansas last year, Kobach also created a law that would make first-time voter registrants show proof of their citizenship—a law that isn’t slated to kick in until 2013, but which Kobach wants in place by this November’s elections. State senators recently blocked Kobach’s wishes to speed up the proof of citizenship requirement, but it’s clear where the secretary of state is headed with this: a system where anyone who is an immigrant, or even looks like they might be an immigrant, but is eligible to vote will feel discouraged from showing up at the polls to exercise their franchise toward democracy.

As Kobach keeps upping the ante for who can vote in his own state, he’s also traveling around the country kibitzing in conversations around how to make voting and immigration more difficult in other states. Note the recent report from KanVote, which through freedom of information act requests documented Kobach’s calendar and whereabouts for much of the last year. It shows Kobach spending more time lawyering immigration cases in states like Nebraska, California and Pennsylvania than he has been spending time helping Kansas government agencies administer the photo voter ID law he imposed on voters. It also shows him gathering at events sponsored by the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council and with groups that have taken hard stances against immigration.

Remember that Kobach is behind the notorious anti-immigrant bills in Arizona (SB 1070) and Alabama (HB 56). (For a perfect graphic of Kobach’s ties to anti-immigrant bills in Alabama and beyond peep this from Mother Jones), both of which have been challenged by courts and the federal government. And deny as he may his connections to organizations that have little value for South American immigrants, there is plenty of evidence that Kobach has been pallin’ around with such groups, as spelled out recently by Heidi Beirich at HateWatch.

One particular group to look at that Kobach has been hobnobbing with, as seen in the KanVote files, is the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, a group formed after 9/11 that believes a specialized identification card should be created in order to keep “foreigners” and “terrorists” out of the country. As said on their site:

CSDL supports strengthening driver’s license rules at the state level so state officials do not issue licenses to anyone who will not provide substantive proof of identity, regardless of the applicants’ reason for not doing so. … Authenticating identity of driver’s license applicants will keep drunks and reckless drivers from getting new licenses under assumed or changed names, help prevent underage drinking and smoking,* reduce voter fraud*, help protect against identity theft, help law enforcement find deadbeat dads, and unmask sexual predators using fraudulent identities to hide from arrest warrants and sex offender requirements.

If it’s not already bad enough that millions of Americans find it burdensome and difficult to get the kind of driver’s license ID card needed to vote in at least nine states today (counting just states that offer no non-photo alternative to photo voter IDs to vote), CDSL would like to make it even more difficult to get a driver’s license. Putting such ID policies in place would, of course, shut off even more people, especially people of color who disproportionately lack ID, from freely exercising their right to vote.

The fact that Kobach, an avowed leader of the anti-immigrant agenda, is taking time from educating his state’s voters about new voting procedures to work with groups who want to make obtaining an ID an even thornier process than it already is would tend to confirm suspicions that part of the voter ID agenda has anti-immigrant intentions. Kobach is far from the only person, though, that seems to view the need for restrictive voting laws in tandem with an “illegal alien” issue.

On a PBS “News Hour” segment with Gwen Ifill, Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky said, “Photo I.D. laws can prevent illegal aliens from registering and voting.…I think the very next stage after photo I.D. is going to be states putting in requirements that you provide prove of citizenship when you register to vote, to also try to solve that problem.”

Columnist Mike Rosen would concur, stating recently in the Denver Post, “Yes, illegal immigrants and other lawbreakers might have trouble getting a valid photo ID, but why should that bother you, unless you’re a Democrat who assumes most of those people would vote for your party?”

In Mississippi, where the state is trying to fast track a photo voter ID bill for this year’s presidential elections despite its law must survive federal review under the Voting Rights Act just like with Texas and South Carolina, Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo also seems to find immigration a problem conflated with voting, saying recently, “Whether it be immigration or border security or voting procedures, our Department of Justice should be more concerned with upholding the law rather than suing states on the taxpayer dime.”

A recent New York magazine article about Republican panic around voting quotes Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol, who studied Tea Party activists and found that “along with illegal immigrants, low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.”

This is probably true for lawmakers for whom a situation like Takoma Park in Maryland, where lawmakers have protected the right of non-citizens to participate in democracy by voting, is a nightmare scenario for the country. Those same lawmakers believe that President Obama was elected into office by way of fraudulent votes cast by people who don’t belong in the country, namely Latino immigrants and basically anyone from low-income communities that groups like ACORN registered to vote. Without coincidence these are also the same two groups who will be the hardest affected by Kobach’s voting and immigration policies.

Pennsylvania Photo Voter ID Bill is Now Law, HBCUs in the Crosshairs

Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett wasted no time signing HB 934 into law after the legislature voted it through with not one Democrat in support and in fact a few Republicans that opposed. That vote happened yesterday afternoon and Corbett’s ink was on the bill by the evening. The law goes into effect today mandating that all voters have photo identification issued by state or federal government, a state university or a nursing home. The state becomes the sixteenth with a photo voter ID bill, and the ninth with a strict photo voter ID bill, meaning unlike other states there’s no alternative non-photo ID that can be used if you show up without proper photo identification.

The granting of nursing home IDs (is there such a thing?) as an eligible voting ID was fought in as an amendment by groups like AARP, a voting bloc that Corbett and fellow Republicans apparently care about. Other groups, like low-income, college students, didn’t fare as well. ACLU legislative director Andy Hoover told me that amendments that didn’t make the final bill included one made for people to sign an affidavit to vote if they didn’t bring photo ID and another to qualify a Medicare card as an eligible ID to vote.

Local civil rights group Black Political Empowerment Project told Governor Corbett in a letter that allowing nursing home IDs is fine, but there are thousands of elderly voters who are cared for at home, not at care facilities. Those would be senior citizens from low-income families who can’t afford nursing homes.

As for college students, there are plenty in the state whose student ID cards don’t have expiration dates. PA’s voter ID bill allows only for college IDs with expiration dates. Below is an identification card for a staff member at Bloomsburg University, a state college. It’s identical to the student IDs and there is no expiration date, only an issue date.

On the topic of college students, they seem to be a group that have had a hard time voting in Pennsylvania historically, especially black college students. After the 2008 presidential elections, when hundreds of students from the HBCU Lincoln University stood up to seven hours in the rain to vote, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on their behalf because the county had moved the polling place to a small facility far from Lincoln’s campus. At the university, voter registration drives had anticipated a record turnout for the election that brought about the first African-American president, but Chester County wouldn’t move the polling place to a larger facility on campus that could accommodate the huge swell of new registered voters.

“After voters complained about conditions in the 2008 election, in which some people waited as long as seven hours to vote, the county responded by moving the polling place even further away from campus,” ACLU’s Hoover told me.

They successfully sued the county, which at the time was headed by a commissioner named Carol Aichele. Aichele is now the Secretary of State under Governor Corbett and was by his side when he signed the bill into law. After the signing she said, “No one entitled to vote will be denied that right by this bill, but by preventing those not legally allowed to vote from casting ballots, we will make sure every vote carries the weight it should in deciding elections.”

Who is she talking about when she says “those not legally allowed to vote”?

“I don’t know who she’s talking about,” said Pennsylvania voting rights activist Celeste Taylor. “If she’s talking about voter impersonation, then just say that. I think she has broadened the meaning of voter fraud to stopping people from voting who are eligible to vote, but just don’t have the right ID. The impacts of this law will be on people who meet all legal requirements to be able to vote. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Taylor has worked on voting rights, GOTV, voter registration and voter protection campaigns since 1999 at national, state and local levels. She works with a coalition that includes dozens of organizations around the state including not only civil rights groups like the NAACP and League of Young Voters, but also the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. The County Commissioners are not an advocacy organization. They are an association of county government administrators who are on the frontlines of every election, staffing the polls and dealing with all the problems that occur on election days. And they oppose this new law.

But Governor Corbett believes he has signed a “law of prevention” against voter fraud.

But voter fraud “just isn’t happening,” says Taylor. “I’m just so upset because I’ve seen how hard it is to get people to participate in this democracy and utilize the vote as their voice. Between the Citizens United ruling and corporations now having so much power—and now voter ID laws superceding what people’s rights are—so many people just don’t get it.”

Forty-Seven Years Ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson Called for Voting Rights

On March 15, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to pass legislation allowing African Americans to vote and to “extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.” In making this declaration, President Johnson made the case that the fight for voting rights was not just for black people. “Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

Read this archived New York Times article for more choice quotes from President Johnson on voting rights, including whether this issue is a constitutional, moral, or states’ rights issue. To LBJ, it was none of the above: “It is wrong—deadly wrong—to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote.”

In the speech, President Johnson refused to single out the South, where voting discrimination had turned violent as seen across TVs in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Instead, the president said voting discrimination was “an American problem. … In Buffalo as well as Birmingham, in Philadelphia as well as Selma.”

Fast forward forty-seven years ago today to Philadelphia as well as Selma. Pennsylvania’s Republican legislators passed a restrictive photo voter ID bill that was signed into law this week with glee by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, as the bill’s sponsor Representative Daryl Metcalfe—one of Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Dirty Dozen” anti-immigrant state legislators—looked over his shoulder.

In Alabama, the state passed an immigration bill so strife with civil and human rights violations that Reverend Al Sharpton brought activists back to Selma to re-enact the 1965 march that precipitated President Johnson to demand voting rights legislation. Alabama also passed a voter ID bill, though not as restrictive as Pennsylvania’s, but it can’t be enforced until the federal government reviews it, per the Voting Rights Act.

These days Pennsylvania is looking a lot like the Alabama of 1965. The same NAACP that led court challenges and won court victories for voting rights, Rep. Metcalfe calls “laughable.” He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that mandating specific photo identification to vote can’t be a civil rights issue because you need ID to ride a plane.

This argument only deserves a response because it is a primary talking point for every Republican who defends voter ID laws. One day I’ll write a blog that simply lists all of the things that the photo voter ID mandate is compared to (buying Sudafed, going to a Rated R movie, etc.). As for the plane comparison, though, it’s wrong.

As The Advancement Project’s co-director Judith Browne Dianis recently pointed out, TSA will allow you to board a plane if you happen to forget or don’t have photo ID on you. From TSA’s own website:


We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID, does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases.


In recent weeks, both DOJ and courts have blocked photo voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas on state constitutional and Voting Rights Act grounds respectively. In Pennsylvania, litigation is inevitable. In Tennessee, there is serious movement in the legislature to repeal the photo voter ID law passed last year.

States like Texas and South Carolina have blamed the federal government for imposing on their state’s sovereignty, but President Johnson, emboldened by the heroic efforts of African Americans who marched, bled and died for voting rights, had an answer for that:

“Open your polling places to all your people. … We cannot—we must not—refuse to protect the right of Americans to vote in any election in which they may desire to participate.”

DOJ Texas Voter ID Ruling Is No Surprise Given State’s Faulty ‘Colorblind’ Policies

Ben Sklar/Getty Images

It was no surprise that the Department of Justice blocked Texas’s photo voter ID law yesterday. Texas Republicans’s reaction was also no surprise. They’re pissed, though it’s hard to believe they are really shocked.

Texas Representative Lamar Smith: “This is an abuse of executive authority and an affront to the citizens of Texas. It’s time for the Obama administration to learn not to mess with Texas.”

Like South Carolina, Texas was a state subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for its history of voter discrimination against African Americans. This means Texas needs clearance from DOJ to institute any new voter laws so their discriminatory past is never revisited. Texas’s photo voter ID law was rejected due to the discriminatory effect it would have on Hispanic voters, given that a significantly greater portion of them lack ID and lack the means to obtain ID, meaning the law amounts to a poll tax.

Hardly a plot twist. In fact moving forward, let’s agree now that there will be more states that pass photo voter ID laws, and more rejections from DOJ or courts in at least some of those cases. Here’s what will follow:

·Organizations fighting to protect voting rights will applaud the blocks, citing that certain populations would be disenfranchised under voter ID laws, and in most cases the data will support them.

·Republicans will cry foul saying that “voter fraud” compels the state to have voter ID laws. In most if not all cases the data will not support them.

·Some Republicans will say that the Obama administration is impeding on states’ rights while other Republicans will hint that Democrats are trying to steal the November 2012 elections. Those same Republicans will push to have voter ID laws reinstated by the November 2012 elections.


The Details in Texas

This DOJ ruling was not a surprise to Texas. Texas sued the federal government last year in anticipation of being rejected. Nonetheless, Texas Republicans were appalled by DOJ’s decision yesterday. Senator John Cornyn said it “reeks of politics,” which is, at best, dishonest. Texas understood it needed clearance under the Voting Rights Act as a covered jurisdiction. It also knew what it had to do to make its case for why the voter ID should fly.

But when it came time to supply the numbers requested by DOJ to make an empirical decision about the law, Texas lunched. They supplied two sets of numbers of registered Hispanic voters thought to lack photo ID without bothering to reconcile either.

Wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to Texas’s director of elections Keith Ingram, “The state has not provided an explanation for the disparate results. More significantly, it declined to offer an opinion on which of the two data sets is more accurate.”

DOJ’s decision was made not because of political reasons, but because Texas decided not to cooperate.

At the conservative Heritage Foundation, the major fundraiser and think-tank for suppressing voting rights, research fellow Hans von Spakovsky blogged his disapproval and told The Washington Post, “The Texas law isn’t any different than the Georgia and Indiana voter ID laws, and both of those laws have been in place more than five years”—which is wrong on its face.

It’s quite clear that the Texas law is different than Georgia’s and Indiana’s. Georgia allows Native Americans to show tribal identification cards, while Texas does not. Georgia also allows college IDs to qualify, unlike Texas. In Indiana, you can not use a concealed weapons permit to vote, as in Texas. Most clearly, Texas is a completely different state in both size and demographics. Neither Georgia nor Indiana has Latino populations anywhere near the scope of Texas.

DOJ’s Texas decision rests squarely on the discriminatory impact the voter ID law would have on Hispanic-American registered voters. Depending on which set of numbers supplied by Texas you want to go by, either 175,000 or 304,000 registered Hispanic Texas voters have no driver’s license or state-issued photo ID card, compared to 429,026 or 491,566 who are not Hispanic, making Hispanic Texan voters anywhere from 46.5 percent to 120 percent more likely to lack ID.

Texas has no driver’s license offices in almost a third of the state’s counties. Meanwhile, close to 15 percent of Hispanic Texans living in counties without driver’s license offices don’t have ID. A little less than a quarter of driver’s license offices have extended hours, which would make it tough for many working voters to find a place and time to acquire the IDs. Despite this, the Texas legislature struck an amendment that would have reimbursed low-income voters for travel expenses when going to apply for a voter ID, and killed another that would have required offices to remain open until 7:00 p.m. or later on just one weekday, and four or more hours at least two weekends.

Perez’s conclusion about this:

“Even after submitting data that show over 600,000 registered voters do not have either a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS — and that a disproportionate share of those registered voters are Hispanic — the state has failed to propose, much less adopt, any program for individuals who have to travel a significant distance to a DPS office, who have limited access to transportation, or who are unable to get to a DPS office during their hours of operation. This failure is particularly noteworthy given Texas’s geography and demographics, which arguably make the necessity for mitigating measures greater than in other states.”

Texas didn’t even bother sending data on black and Asian voters, using the Voting Rights Act itself as an excuse by claiming the civil rights legislation compelled them to be “colorblind” in their voting processes. Their decision to leave this information blank provided an opportunity for voting rights groups to fill in those blanks.

The Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund teamed with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to submit comments to DOJ on how African-American registered voters would be affected, particularly those at historically black colleges and universities. They collected anecdotes from hundreds of students at Texas HBCUs who stated they didn’t think they’d be able to get a voter ID due to lack of transportation, funds or the right documents.

Looking at the HBCU Prairie View A&M University in Waller County, the League reminded DOJ of the “unfortunate history of discouraging student voting” from the 1970s to the 2000s. In 2004, the Waller County’s district attorney apologized, under a federal judge’s watch, for “threatening” behavior toward Prairie View students seeking to register to vote.

Their comments also share statistics on the shared burdens of Texas’s black and Latino populations: the poverty rate for Texas Latino Americans and African Americans are 24.8 percent and 23.8 percent respectively, compared to 8.4 percent for white Americans; Latino Americans are 53 percent of all Texans living in poverty, while 16 percent are African American.

As League of Young Voters Texas director Christina Sanders, told me, “DOJ ruled based on information given to them from Texas, but with all of the missing information it probably didn’t even scratch the surface of the total amount of people who would be disenfranchised on the ground.”

Texas ACLU attorney Katie O’Connor said of DOJ’s ruling: “We’re pleased the Department of Justice has recognized the harms this discriminatory law would have on people’s fundamental right to vote.”

Their independent analysis showed that almost 37 percent of Spanish-surnamed voters and close to 17 percent of African American voters lack proper ID as opposed to just 11 percent of white Texans.

Said Governor Rick Perry, “[DOJ’s] denial is yet another example of the Obama Administration’s continuing and pervasive federal overreach.”

No surprise there.

For the numbers of African Americans and Latino Americans living and registered to vote in Texas, check for the infographic here.

Swing State Strategy? Pennsylvania May Be Next to Restrict Voting Rights

Antoine Owens-Davis, 19, (C) and D’nise Smith, 18, (R) wait to vote for the first time on Election Day 2008 in Philadelphia. They were among hundreds young people who waited hours to vote during record turnout of students that day. Photo: William Thomas Cain/Stringer/Getty Images

Last week, Pennsylvania took a step closer to joining the ranks of states with strict photo voter ID laws, mandating that citizens have state-issued photo identification cards to vote. The bill reeks of Tea Party and ALEC influence, as is the case in most all other states that have passed similar voter ID bills. Eight states already have such laws set for November, and several others are debating them. Pennsylvania would be a particularly significant addition to the list, given its history as a key swing state in presidential elections.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates as many as five million registered voters could have trouble on Election Day due to new voting laws.

On March 7, Pennsylvania’s Senate passed HB 934, the photo voter ID mandate bill, with all Republican votes, after the House of Representatives passed a stricter version last year. The House is expected to approve the Senate’s version when it comes back their way and Republican Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign it into law. It will go into effect for the November presidential elections.

As was the case in almost all of the other states with photo voter ID laws, the legislation was passed with purely Republican votes, and will be signed into law by a Republican governor. Only Rhode Island has passed a photo voter ID bill with Democratic support.

“When you look closer at the data, it becomes clear that particular communities will be disproportionately impacted by this bill,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Seniors, racial minorities, people living in poverty, and people with disabilities are more likely to not have ID than the majority population.”

The Republican who introduced the Pennsylvania bill, Representative Daryl Metcalfe, happens to have a long record of introducing (and passing) conservative legislation, most notoriously for harsh legislation against immigrants.

A glance at his list of legislation for the 2011-12 regular session reveals a flock of bills that infringe upon the rights of minorities: an “illegal immigration” bill, a “definition of marriage” anti-same sex marriage bill, a “right to work” anti-union bill, and a “14th Amendment Misapplication” bill, which would “clarify” the U.S. Constitution amendment that not only granted citizenship to slaves, but to any child born in the United States. According to Rep. Metcalfe, this amendment has been used incorrectly, particularly in the case of children born to Latino immigrants. Under his new bill, citizenship would only be granted to a child “with at least one parent who owes no allegiance to any foreign country or a child without citizenship or nationality in any foreign country.”

Rep. Metcalfe also introduced a bill that would require that candidates for public office, including the U.S. president and vice president, prove their citizenship.

Almost his entire agenda for the current session, emboldened by a new Republican-led legislature and governor, has been about limiting the rights of minorities. His emphasis on proving citizenship might be too effective in making sure that anyone who is not white might have a difficult time voting or even running for office.

Unsurprisingly, Rep. Metcalfe, who’s bragged about being “a Tea Party-er before it was cool” is an ALEC-yte, having attended, on taxpayers’ dimes, the conferences of the American Legislative Exchange Council, where the only thing exchanged are tips from wealthy business executives on how Republican policymakers can create ultra-conservative legislation. The Republican representative for Pittsburgh follows a long line of other Republican legislators in other states who have led their general assemblies to the passage of photo voter ID bills, some of which were modeled after ALEC’s draft voter legislation.

Read more about Metcalfe and his ALEC ties in this comprehensive profile of him from Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir here:

The other boogeyman in this voter ID bill is the lumped-up ACORN, which has all but collapsed after the 2008 election under the weight of Republican attacks and some of its own internal turmoil. Several ACORN workers in Pittsburgh were charged with voting fraud for false signatures collected in voter registration drive campaigns. According to the ACLU, though, those charges happened due to their county election division’s request to have them turn over all collected registration applications, regardless of whether they were complete or had accurate information.

But as with every other state passing these laws, instances of statewide voter fraud are close to nonexistent, and in the tiny fraction of times it does appear it’s not at the polls where voter IDs would be used. Even with the ACORN case, the charges stemmed from voter registration, not what happened in a voting booth.

It will cost taxpayers over $11 million to implement the new laws according to The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The fiscal note drawn up for the bill by the senate’s appropriation committee quotes something less, but nothing cheap—over $5 million for this year alone, with $1 million of it charged to the state taxpayers and $4 million charged to the federal government through the Help America Vote Act. The state’s assessment, meanwhile, says the law could cost as much as $2.2 million, charged to the state, to implement it every year hereafter.

Lawyers from the Advancement Project say that the state’s figures are inaccurate. In a letter to the state Senate, Advancement Project’s consulting attorney for Pennsylvania, Marian K. Schneider, noted that there exists “wildly varying estimates” for the number of registered voters without photo ID.

In the senate appropriations committee report, it states that less than 1 percent of registered voters in Pennsylvania don’t have a state-issued voter ID card. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, using 2006 Department of Transportation figures, cites many times more than that: 691,909 people. And last December, the state’s Bureau of Elections stated that they didn’t have data for over 3 million registered voters from the Department of Transportation.

Writes Schneider, “It is impossible to have a sense of the costs of implementing this bill without having a reliable estimate of the number of Pennsylvanians who do not have PennDOT-issued identification.”

Pennsylvania is a perennial key swing state, which swung toward Obama in 2008 and to the Democratic candidate in both of the preceding presidential elections, though by slim margins. It could swing to the right at any time, and with Tea Partyers like Metcalfe and a Republican governor, it’s hard to divorce this fact from the push for strict photo voter ID laws there.

In a recent statement about his voter ID bill, Metcalfe said, “Any elected official who opposes requiring valid photo ID at the polls needs to be asked if allowing for cheating at the ballot box is necessary for them to win,” though with scant evidence of this “cheating.” What’s evident is that changing the rules for voting at the ballot box may unnecessarily cause thousands to lose their voting rights.

This story has been updated since publication.



Judge Halts Wisconsin’s Toughest-in-the-Nation Voter ID Law

Milwaukee resident Truman Brown, 8, helps his father Noel Rosado vote on Election Day 2008. Photo: Darren Hauck/Stringer/Getty Images

Wisconsin was considered the state with the strictest photo voter ID law, until yesterday when Judge David Flanagan ordered a temporary injunction on the law until an upcoming trial determines if the law should be scrapped permanently. The lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and immigration rights group Voces de la Frontera, was filed last year, and is one of four against Governor Scott Walker’s administration over its photo voter ID laws.

The news is welcome considering Flanagan had previously denied the NAACP’s motion to block the law, saying they needed more people to demonstrate irreparable harm by the law. At the time, in February, the NAACP had lined up forty people who described difficulties trying to obtain IDs to vote.

However, Flanagan ruled back then that the issue was important enough that it deserved a trial. That trial is scheduled for April 16. Yesterday’s temporary injunction basically freezes the law until then, meaning the law won’t be in effect for the state’s April 3 primary. As for the more people the NAACP needed to convince the judge, they got back up from Wisconsin poli sci professor Kenneth Mayer whose research found that over 220,000 people in the state lacked the kind of ID needed to vote under the new law.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law, which went into effect on February, says that you can only present a state driver’s license, a state non-driver ID, a card issued by a US uniformed service, a Passport, a certificate of naturalization issued not more than two years before the election, an ID card from a federally recognized Indian tribe, or a student ID that must contain a signature, an issue date, and an expiration date no later than two years after the election. Universities that have IDs that don’t comply with those stipulations have been scrambling to create voter IDs for their students.

Governor Walker Tweeted after the announcement, “Photo ID to vote is a common sense law that will ultimately be upheld. Need it for library, cold med & public assistance.”

He’s probably a little heated now. The NAACP case was just the latest blow against his photo ID agenda. On Monday, March 5, another judge granted another lawsuit against the governor challenging his voter ID law. Walker tried to swat away this one, waged by the League of Women Voters, but Judge Richard Niess said that the League is the best plaintiff for the case. Said Judge Niess:


“This is the same cohort of citizens that shows up in the circuit courts in increasing numbers, day in and day out, without lawyers, in foreclosure proceedings, collection actions and family matters,” Niess wrote. “Who will advocate for them on these constitutional issues that affect their fundamental, inherent and constitutional right to vote, if not the plaintiffs, or entities like the plaintiffs?”


Finally, the ACLU filed a suit against Wisconsin’s voter ID law in federal court, making the case that it violates the Voting Rights Act because it discriminates against people of color. You can read the stories of some of the impacted voters ACLU is filing on behalf of here.

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