DOJ Rejects Texas Voting Law. What Does That Mean For Pennsylvania?

Daylin Leach, Al Sharpton speak about Voter ID

Crossposted from the Brennan Center of Justice’s Redistricting Blog

— by Erik Opsal

The Department of Justice objected to Texas’ voter ID law Monday, determining the law would discriminate against minority voters, particularly Hispanics.

“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter to the Texas director of elections.

The same day, the Brennan Center and other legal groups moved to intervene to stop the restrictive photo ID law, which will also be reviewed in federal court. The motion, on behalf of the Texas NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, argues the law erects unnecessary barriers to voting and disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of minority voters.

“Decades ago, our nation passed the Voting Rights Act to combat this kind of discrimination,” said Brennan Center Senior Counsel Myrna Pérez. “We urge the federal court to stand up for voters by blocking this law.”

This news comes just days after a Houston Chronicle analysis found that Texas’ voter ID law “could affect as many as 2.3 million registered voters.”

Court Rejects Voter Suppression Efforts

As November approaches, voter intimidation looms as a next battleground. A federal court in Philadelphia last week made clear the limits to what is allowed.

The judge upheld a long-standing consent decree prohibiting the Republican National Committee from using improper election tactics. The consent decree specifically bars the organization from using voter challengers, poll watchers, and a practice known as “vote caging” to target and intimidate voters of color.

“Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts,” Reuters reports.

The court’s opinion described how poll watchers and poll challengers have the potential to disenfranchise lawful voters by causing delays, crowding, and confusion inside the polling place and creating a charged partisan atmosphere that can intimidate many new voters. Here’s an analysis of these past problems.

With the 2012 election fast approaching, it is important for state officials to ensure other political groups — not just the RNC — follow the law and refrain from using poll watchers to intimidate or discriminate against voters, writes the Brennan Center’s Nic Riley.

Pennsylvania Update

The state Senate passed a voter ID bill, which the House is expected to vote on today. Opponents of the bill are still fighting, saying it limits a basic right. Read more here and here. Read an op-ed opposing the law from Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center.

Voting Rights: One Step Forward in S. Carolina, One Step Back in PA

This year, the GOP is working to capture key voting demographics: Students, the poor and seniorsFrom Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire:

The Justice Department blocked South Carolina’s controversial voter ID law, according to the Columbia State, “saying it would prevent black people from voting.It was the first voter ID law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.”

Rick Hasen predicts the case will go the Supreme Court — and most likely be expedited ahead of the 2012 election — making “a momentous term even more momentous.”

The letter from the Department of Justice can be found on Talking Point Memo.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett fails to provide proof of the alleged voter impersonation fraud while he continues to push for  voter ID laws which will exclude many eligible Pennsylvanian from their right to vote.

More after the jump.
State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) has written a second letter to the governor, this time blasting the “nonresponse” she received from the governor’s aide and again asking the governor for evidence of voter impersonation fraud.

Josephs, Democratic chairwoman of the House State Government Committee, sent Gov. Tom Corbett a letter in October after reading a newspaper article in which Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele signaled her support of legislation to require voters to provide photo identification. She said the bill would make it harder for someone to commit voter impersonation fraud.

In her initial letter, Josephs pointed out to Corbett that Aichele’s remarks were missing one important point: any evidence that voter fraud has occurred. She asked Corbett to provide the number of complaints, investigations, prosecutions and convictions of voter impersonation fraud during his service as Pennsylvania’s attorney general.

The Nov. 1 response on behalf of Corbett was penned by Secretary of Legislative Affairs Annmarie Kaiser.

According to State Rep. Babette Josephs:

Her letter provided no credible evidence. It was a non-response. Ms. Kaiser’s only example of voter impersonation fraud is a vague allegation of voter registration fraud. There is no indication in her letter if any alleged fraudulent registrations led to voting fraud or whether any one was prosecuted for such voter registration fraud. She also makes the dubious claim that the ‘prevalence of voter fraud has steadily increased in the Commonwealth over the past few years.

In the absence of any solid information, Josephs replied back to Corbett, repeating her request for specific evidence.

Considering that a law to require voter photo identification could cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $4.3 million — the low-ball estimate by the majority Appropriations Committee chairman – and will potentially disfranchise thousands of law-abiding Pennsylvanians, I would like to know specific examples of fraud. In the absence of any evidence of fraud, it is shameful for this legislation to be enacted.

As attorney general, you prosecuted numerous public officials for using their offices with the intent to rig elections. House Bill 934 is an obvious attempt to rig elections in Pennsylvania.

They demanded ID when I came to vote


My decades-long experiences as a voter in Philadelphia were mostly satisfactory, but my luck ran out on Nov. 8.

When I entered my center city polling place, poll workers improperly demanded that I produce identification. The 2011 general election occasioned my third or fourth visit to this site. A registered voter is required to produce identification once after s/he moves to their new address.

I reminded them that lawmakers in Harrisburg were currently haggling over a proposal to require identification during each election, which means that they had no legal authority to demand this.

More after the jump.

They told me that the judge of elections directed them to demand ID. They said that the judge can do this while the legislature is determining what to do in the future. I declined and they asked me to recite my address, which I did.

I informed them that I was going to phone the elections board. One poll worker responded that they would tell me what a great job they were doing.

This was at least the third time that I voted at this polling place since my polling place was relocated a few years ago.

A similar experience occurred last May. When I entered the polling place, a worker yelled at me to produce identification. At that time, I was not aware that identification was an issue, so I produced ID.

Both these experiences were bizarre and disturbing. I have to wonder where the city commission finds these people. Whatever the merits of the proposed legislation, it is still not the law. In addition, I probably would have produced ID had they asked me for it as a courtesy. However, they had no right to make demands, even to have me recite my address.

I complained to anyone who I thought was responsible or had an interest in my concern – the Pennsylvania Department of State, state Rep. Babette Josephs and newly-elected City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democrat who does not assume office until January. I reluctantly contacted the city commission office still run by departing Commissioner Marge Tartaglione.

A City Commission lawyer hooked me up with my Democratic committeeman, who immediately apologized and promised that this kind of conduct would not be repeated. He explained there was a miscommunication and described other unusual circumstances that contributed to this episode.

While his explanation begged more questions, I deeply appreciated his responsiveness.

I confess to not following the city commission election closely. I was aware that the commission under Tartaglione was heavily politicized. My attempts to learn more about the election process or research voter turnout and past election results were undermined by the agency’s website, if you can call it that. The website is essentially a blank slate that is utterly useless.

A few weeks after the election, I learned that my experience was nothing unusual after reading an Inquirer interview with Singer and Al Schmidt, the incoming commission members who will replace, respectively, Tartaglione and Joseph Duda. Schmidt is a Republican.

In excerpts, Schmidt said, “The common denominators during the campaign really focused on transparency, making sure the office provides information to people when they need it…that it’s more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers and people who depend on it for service…They’re not transparent in how they spend taxpayer dollars…but more importantly, the information that people need to become engaged in the civic life of the city.”

Singer: “Part of it is simply making certain information is easily, publicly available, through the usual formats and also on a website. Budget detail and election results and things like that. And part of it is changing the culture of the office…making clear that we’re here to serve the public – the voters, the candidates, and the parties. And that our job is to make it easier for people…to be engaged.”

Schmidt: “The training of election board workers has been really very poor, and I think it shows in a lot of ways. I know it hurts our minority party and other minority parties…They’ve never seen a poll-watcher certificate before and they kick people out…It causes a lot of havoc on election day.”

Schmidt and Singer talk like serious people intent on serving the public to the best of their abilities. Under ideal circumstances, there would be nothing special about them. The Schmidt-Singer team should be the standard, not the exception.

Voter Suppression Efforts

         Laws have been passed in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states with Republican controlled legislatures and governors that try to limit voting rights for minorities, seniors, and college students, piously raising the specter of “voter fraud”. I look forward to court challenges to these bills, challenging their constitutionality, but with the Supreme  Court the way it is, and memories of Citizens United, It’s cause to worry. I have other memories, of  how African-American voters in Florida in 2000 were either purged from the rolls, or intimidated by police from going to the polls, and then we had the eight lost years of George DUH Bush.