Yesterday, Judge Robert Simpson put a temporary hold on the full implementation of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, allowing for voters to cast ballots in November’s elections regardless of whether they have a state-issued photo identification or not. The ruling prompted yet another statement from the state’s GOP leadership that calls into question the motives for the law in the first place.
Up until this point, Judge Simpson had been deferring to state government officials, relying on what they said they would be doing to ensure everyone would be able to vote as opposed to what they were actually doing, or even what they were capable of doing.
That worked for the initial voter ID hearing he presided over in July, when he initially denied an injunction based off of a “predictive judgement” on the state’s best intentions. But then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told him last month that he had to make a ruling based off the state’s currently practiced voter ID operations, and be sure it had zero intolerance for disenfranchisement.
Before Simpson’s court again last week, the state tried to reinterpret the Supreme Court’s orders in two ways: First, they tried to redefine disenfranchisement, saying it didn’t include people who got fed up with the state’s onerous requirements. Second, the state’s lawyers said the Supreme Court meant for Simpson to make a ruling based off the “future perfect”—what they will have done—not what they are doing, and proceeded with pointing to the state’s voter ID law changes as their proof.
Judge Simpson bought neither. He found three problems (detailed at the bottom of page 3 in Simpson’s ruling in the link), one of which was that the law as demonstrated now is still deficient in granting all voters access to ID—“the evidence is similar in kind to the prospective ‘assurances of government officials’ testimony which the Supreme Court found an unsatisfactory basis for a ‘predictive judgment,’ ” he wrote. In other words, the future was imperfect.
Also, he rejected the state’s revised definition of “disenfranchisement” in no uncertain terms saying:
I am not still convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election. … I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement.”
While Simpson had deferred to the state in his previous ruling, what he failed to recognize was that the way the state officials—from the Department of State and Department of Transportation—were talking about the law was completely different than how the state legislators who created and passed the law were talking about it.
Yesterday, after Simpson’s ruling, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe—lead sponsor of the voter ID bill and House State Government Committee majority chairman—made the following statement:
Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID. … Rather than using today’s ruling as an opportunity to increase both voter integrity and accountability by requiring every Pennsylvania voter to prove they are who they say they are by presenting a valid photo ID before casting a vote, as Constitutionally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Simpson and the Corbett administration have chosen to openly enable and fully embrace the ever-increasing entitlement mentality of those individuals who have no problem living off the fruits of their neighbors’ labor.
Let’s put aside the fact that Simpson’s ruling was completely in alignment with both the state and federal constitutions, not to mention the Voting Rights Act that forbids any law that places obstructions to voting before people of color. Instead, focus on Metcalf’s comments about the “lazy,” which he first brought to the public realm in a radio interview right after the state Supreme Court raised the disenfranchisement issue in their ruling.
My colleague Ari Berman expounds plenty on this in his post “The ‘Lazy’ ‘47 Percent’ Vote,” but what we have here are state legislators who think that voters aren’t being disenfranchised, they’re just being slackers. But more than that, Rep. Metcalfe ties this voter ID issue into claims by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his veep running mate Paul Ryan that there is a huge percentage of people in society who are “takers,” mooching off the so-called “makers” in society. How this applies to a fundamental right to vote for everyone, and which detracts from no one, as guaranteed in the Pennsylvania constitution is unclear.
What is clear is that Republicans in Pennsylvania think that anyone who isn’t voting for them or following their agenda are fraudulent, irresponsible welfare queens who are undeserving of the vote. Statements made by Rep. Mike Turzai, who candidly admitted that the voter ID laws were passed to help “Romney win Pennsylvania,” and the Pennsylvania GOP about Simpson’s ruling weren’t much better. After yesterday’s ruling, Turzai released a statement that decried voter fraud even though the state’s lawyers brought forth no evidence of voter fraud.
Many thought that the “47 percent,” and “30 percent” comments of Romney and Ryan would harm their campaigns, but the Republican Party must not have gotten that memo, because now they’re doubling down on the comments.
Meanwhile, for those who still support an actual democracy, the words most precious are those recently spoken by First Lady Michelle Obama who said, “It is up to us. We cannot let anyone discourage us from casting our ballots.”
This post has been updated since publication.