UPDATE 3:45 p.m.: Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. said that the new hearing to determine if Pennsylvania’s photo voter ID law is constitutional will likely resume next summer with the intent to wrap it up by August, anticipating an appeal. Meanwhile, the judge is still deliberating whether he should extend the temporary injunction that blocked law for last month’s election to also cover a May 2013 primary in the state. Judge Simpson said there may be a hearing to decide whether to extend the injunciton for May.
If you thought the voter ID saga was over, you’re unfortunately mistaken. The states that have been trying to push photo voter ID laws have not let up, and they are wasting no time with continuing to place restrictions on the vote. Pennsylvania and Mississippi took steps today to cement a voter ID future for upcoming elections. Meanwhile, Alaska is now in fresh pursuit of a photo voter ID law, even though voter fraud — the problem such laws portend to address — was not an issue in last month’s elections.
A quick look at how each of these states are plunging forward with the voter ID agenda:
Pennsylvania — A state court temporarily blocked the photo voter ID law Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law earlier this year, inactive only for November’s election though. This was the law that state Rep. Daryl Metcalf said was going to deliver the state to Mitt Romney, and that “lazy” people didn’t deserve to vote if they couldn’t comply with it. The judge allowed the law to work for any election afterward, though, pending the outcome of a full trial on the constitutional merits of the law. A status conference was held today to determine when civil rights lawyers will return to court to argue with the state for a permanent ruling on if the law can stay in effect. ACLU attorney Vic Walczak told a Philly TV station, “The best result would be to extend the injunction until the courts can consider the heavy duty constitutional issues involved here at an appropriate pace, rather than on a rocket docket.”
Mississippi — Given this state is a covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5, the photo voter ID law it passed last year must be precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, to make sure it has neither a discriminatory purpose nor effect. It was not cleared in time for November’s election because DOJ needed further review. Today, the Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann released the findings of an exit poll study, which said 98 percent of voters have the photo ID needed to comply with the law. The survey polled 6,000 Mississippians on this past Election Day, asking them if they have one of the eight types of ID required of the law. Black voters represented 38 percent of those polled, and 84% of them answered they had a driver’s license, compared with 97 percent of white voters. Overall, 97 percent of black voters had one of the eight IDs, compared to 99 percent of white voters. Of the two percent the study determined had no ID, over two-thirds of those were black.
Alaska — African Americans weren’t the only people who had to suffer through literacy tests to vote. When Congress finally extended citizenship to all American Indians in 1924, Alaska’s legislature responded by placing an English-only literacy test requirement to vote, which lasted until 1975 when the Voting Rights Act made the state a Section 5 covered jurisdiction and abolished the tests. This week, Alaska joins Nevada, another state that has discriminated against its indigenous population, in proposing a photo voter ID law for the next election. Alaska also happens to be one of roughly a dozen states that has filed an amicus brief to overturn Section 5 in the upcoming US Supreme Court review of the Voting Rights Act. An Anchorage Daily-News editorial called the proposal “unnecessary” and wrote, “Adding a photo ID requirement will put on extra burden on those voters who live in remote parts of the state, where common sense already waives photo requirements for ID like driver’s licenses, and on others who may not have photo ID.”
Legislators have pretended that photo voter ID laws are needed to protect from voter fraud, but GOP consultant Scott Tranter recently revealed at a Pew Center conference their true intentions when he said, “A lot of us are campaign officials — or campaign professionals — and we want to do everything we can to help our side. Sometimes we think that’s voter ID, sometimes we think that’s longer lines — whatever it may be.”