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Pennsylvania's voter suppression gets green light

I may have voted alongside 93-year-old grandmother Vivette Applewhite before.

I may have voted alongside 93-year-old grandmother Vivette Applewhite before. She hails from the Germantown section of Philadelphia, the same area where I lived for a number of years. Given that she says that she cast her first vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960, I'm guessing that she didn't miss the historic 2008 election. For all I know, we shared a polling station at the corner of Tulpehocken and Greene streets, where we simply verified our signature with the poll workers and stepped into the booth to do our civic duty.

Now that I've moved away, I won't be voting in Pennsylvania this year. Neither may Ms. Applewhite, or the 43 percent of her fellow Philadelphians who don't have the identification required by the state's new law.

This morning, the lawsuit which bears her name and 10 others was unsuccessful in getting Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law blocked:

Those seeking to block the law did not show that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable,” wrote Judge Robert Simpson.

In refusing to grant an injunction to stop the law from being enforced, Simpson said he was convinced that state officials were making efforts to inform voters about the law’s requirements and to implement it “in a non-partisan, even-handed manner.”

In one respect, I'll agree with the judge, who is a Republican himself. Information on how to obtain the required identification to cast a ballot is readily available, assuming you have a computer and an Internet connection, on the DMV page and the state's site, complete with stock photos of "Pennsylvanians" who smile at you, as if to reassure those concerned that obtaining the necessary ID won't be difficult at all. That has virtually nothing to do with the arguments being presented against the law, but it's nice to know that the judge had that fact nailed.

But the idea that the implementation of this law has been done in a "non-partisan, even-handed manner" is pure rubbish.

Two months ago, I noted the now-infamous and possibly accidental declaration of truth from Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader of their state House that this very law is "gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." And Republicans have bullied this legislation into the lives of citizens like Ms. Applewhite, despite Governor Tom Corbett and others not really knowing what's in it and admitting that there isn't really any voter fraud in the state. It can't be said enough: voter-identification laws, if taken on face value, are nothing but a solution in search of a problem.

An Arizona State study released this week added more proof of that, as The Root's Richard Prince noted:

"Despite the push for strict voter ID laws in a charged partisan and racial debate, the most exhaustive study ever of American election fraud reveals the rate is infinitesimal," according to News21, a national investigative reporting project at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University."Since 2000, a time when 146 million Americans were registered to vote, News21 found 10 cases of in-person voter fraud, which only photo ID laws would prevent. That would be about one case for every 15 million eligible voters," the project reported on Thursday.

And yet, this is a problem that is allegedly so urgent that Republicans in Pennsylvania are rushing to implement it before the November election, at the risk of having unprepared staffers and disenfranchising voters of every stripe, potentially turning Election Day into a joke. (It's not such an urgent issue in Michigan, where their Republican governor recently vetoed a GOP voter-ID law.)

All that has Joyce Block, one of Ms. Applewhite's fellow nonagenarian plaintiffs, plenty peeved, but hopeful: “I’m glad we’re going to appeal it. It isn’t over yet.” Per Slate's Dave Weigel, the next step will indeed be for the ACLU, who helped propel the lawsuit, to take it to the state Supreme Court -- the only step that may actually matter, per this entry from the Philadelphia City Paper's Daniel Denvir, citing a recent piece by conservative columnist Michael Smerconish:

...however the Commonwealth Court rules, state Supreme Court Chief Justice and former Philly District Attorney Ron Castille could be the deciding vote. Though Castille is a Republican, he is a notably independent one.

The rights of voters throughout the nation's sixth-most populous state may be in the hands of one guy. Just as the Founders intended, yes?

In an almost-simultaneously published post, The Nation's Ari Berman outlined why the ruling was wrong. Given that he's about the best reporter out there on this subject, I'd recommend you read his take, also. You can find it here.