The Corbett Administration has invoked the specious allegation of “voter intimidation” by the New Black Panthers as a pretext for not turning over documents in Pennsylvania’s voter suppression by voter ID scheme.
In a letter to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz wrote:
Upon my initial review of your letter, I was optimistic that surely your inquiry marked the long overdue renewal of the Department of Justice’s previously abandoned review of the 2008 voter intimidation case in Philly, a review that would be particularly well-timed in this presidential election year, as I trust Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice share the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that no violation of the voting rights of Pennsylvanians be tolerated. Unfortunately, my optimism proved unwarranted as I read your letter and learned that you are requesting information “concerning Pennsylvania’s compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The minor incident involving three knuckleheads was captured on video on Election Day 2008, It has since been played in an endless loop by Fox News. Unfortunately, there’s no countervailing data to rebut the Big Lie of voter intimidation.
But this time, we’ll be ready for them. I am developing an app, Yo! Philly Votes, that will aggregate and visualize multiple sources of real-time Election Day incident reports. Using software developed by Jon Gosier, we’ll be able to contextualize the sources of reports.
If Yo! Philly Votes had been around in 2008, we would have real-time data that the eyewitness to the incident, Chris Hill,a Republican activist, was at the polling place for an hour and did not see any voters turned away. There were no other reports of voter intimidation. If the source of the incident report had been considered, the bogus story would have remained just that – bogus. Instead, made-for-Fox-News story became a justification for election law changes that have been enacted across the country, including Pennsylvania's restrictive voter ID law.
On March 15, 1965, President Johnson stood before Congress and declared, “And we shall overcome”:
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.
Well, it’s back to the future where there are no uniform standards. Faceless clerks and election officials are making up the rules on who is eligible to vote. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
State officials said PennDOT clerks could now take age and other factors into consideration and grant exceptions to document requirements on a case-by-case basis.
Another source of confusion, for people trying to figure out if they already have the ID they need to vote: seemingly minor differences between names on photo ID cards and names on voter registration lists.
The new law addresses this issue, saying the name on a voter’s photo ID must “substantially conform” to the name on the roll of registered voters, which is duplicated in poll books distributed to every polling place on Election Day.
But the law does not offer any further explanation of what “substantially conform” means - leaving that to election officials at various levels to figure out on their own.
And as reported, election officials’ level of understanding of the new photo ID requirements varies from county-to-county:
Renee Cohen, a Democratic committeewoman in Blue Bell, Montgomery County, wanted to identify Democrats in her precinct who might need help.
She called Montgomery County voter services about two of them: a woman who had used the name “Judy” on her voter registration form, but “Judith” on her driver’s license, and a man who used the initials “C.J.” on his registration, but “Charles J.” on his driver’s license.
Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the Department of State, said both situations described by Cohen “would be ‘substantially conforming,’ in our opinion. That’s what we would recommend to the county election directors. But at the end of the day, it is their decision to make.. . . As we interpret the law, the county election directors do make the final decisions on those issues for their respective counties.”
Cohen got a different answer, however, when she called Montgomery County voter services.
I have monitored elections in Ethiopia and Angola, and conducted democracy training in Central Asia. The arbitrary way in which Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is being implemented would never pass the “free and fair” standard to which emerging democracies are held.
With a sustained public awareness campaign, we shall overcome voter ID. But freedom isn’t free. Please make a donation to the Cost of Freedom Project.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's voter ID law, Vivian Applewhite, has been issued a PennDOT photo ID.
Ms. Applewhite still does not have the documents voters must produce in order to get a "free" photo ID. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
Nothing has changed since Viviette Applewhite, 93, testified in July. The law stands. She still doesn't have a driver's license or Social Security card. The name on her birth certificate is still different from the name on her other documents - all of which, under the law, should have barred her from getting her photo ID.
Ron Ruman, a Department of State spokesman, said:
PennDot has said all along that they would work with folks on a case-by-case basis.