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Gutting the Right to Vote

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, the same conservative Republican who recently cut 70,000 from receiving their meager welfare payments in order to cut government costs, is ready to spend millions of bucks to implement a voter suppression scheme that evidence indicates is a blatant partisan measure designed to help Mitt Romney gain a presidential election victory.

Earlier this year Corbett and his confederates in Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature approved one of the nation’s most restrictive photo Voter ID measures to squash what they claimed was frequent voter fraud particularly in Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia – the state’s largest city.

However, Corbett Administration officials now admit that the fraud their Voter ID measure seeks to corral – persons falsely impersonating someone else on Election Day – is virtually non-existent in the state.

Corbett Administration officials, during a state court hearing on a lawsuit to block implementation of this Voter ID law, acknowledged they had uncovered no evidence of past impersonation fraud and found no evidence that it will occur in the 2012 presidential election.

In fact during the eight years Corbett served as Pennsylvania’s attorney general before his election to governor in 2010 he never prosecuted a single voter fraud case.

“When we argued against this measure earlier this year we said this was a solution seeking a problem because there was no such ID fraud in the state,” Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Phila) said. All Democrats in the stata legislature voted against the ID measure.

“We knew the only purpose of the bill was to impact the November election,” Hughes said. “There is no question this is purely about partisan politics.”

Persuasive confirmation of voter suppression charges from Hughes and others came in late June when the Republican House Majority Leader proudly announced during a Republican Party meeting that the true intent of Voter ID was helping Romney win Pennsylvania.

House Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), when listing 2012 GOP legislative accomplishments said, “Voter ID which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania – Done!”

During the 2008 presidential election, Democratic candidate Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 600,000 votes.

Corbett Administration officials, during that week-long court hearing, testified that 759,000 Pennsylvania residents do not have the kind of state-issued ID (a driver’s license or DMV issued ID) the new law demands for voting, rendering those otherwise eligible voters suddenly ineligible to vote. Many, if they are not paying attention, won’t even know this until they step up to the table at a voting place to sign in and cast a ballot.

Officials also admitted that another 500,000-plus state residents are now ineligible to vote because their drivers’ licenses have expired.

“The number of people that lack the required ID is staggering,” Advancement Project lawyer Penda Hair said. The Project, the ACLU and other organizations filed the lawsuit seeking to stop implementation of the Voter ID law.

During the rushed passage of the Voter ID law, GOP proponents falsely declared the measure would impact about one percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters. But during the court hearing election officials admitted the measure would ensnare nearly ten percent of the state’s eligible voters.

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law requires a photo driver’s license to vote. Persons without a driver’s license can obtain a non-driver’s photo ID. However, to obtain the required ID, a person must produce specific documentation such as a certified birth certificate or Social Security Card. A college student photo ID and even military ID is not acceptable.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele, the official charged with overseeing Pa elections, testified at the hearing that she doesn’t “know what the law says.”

Mass confusion exists among state DMV and other state employees about the specifics of the law, resulting in those employees providing conflicting and/or inaccurate information to persons seeking new IDs or information about the law.

Additionally, the notoriously slow and understaffed DMV offices have limited hours — just two days a week — available for issuing the required IDs. And in many instances DMV offices are difficult to access by persons lacking transportation, further complicating the process for those who do not drive.

The Advancement Project’s Hair said, “The State cannot pull this off before Election Day. Too many glitches exist. This will cost the state extra millions to make this work.”

Gov Corbett, since his election, has aggressively slashed state spending to reduce the state’s budget, cutting educational funding for children, health care for the elderly, environmental protections and even state programs to attract new jobs.

Yet Corbett has reduced corporate taxes and resisted taxing companies benefitting from the state’s natural gas extraction boom -– revenue sources that could help K-through-college funding and services for the needy.

Corbett, for example, recently eliminated the General Assistance program that provided 70,000 residents with $205-per-month payments to save $150-million in Welfare Department expenditures.

Defending his eliminating of welfare aid to some of the state’s poorest and sickest residents, Corbett said in a recent interview that “we have limited income…When income isn’t meeting, demand, you’re going to have to reduce spending somewhere.”

Corbett, while pulling the safety net from under Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable in the name of fiscal responsibility, is prepared to irresponsibly spend over $11-million for operational costs to implement the Voter ID law.

That $11-million does not include other required costs like advertising to alert residents of the new restrictions on voting.

Also, that $11-million does not include the costs of defending the suspect Voter ID law in court. A state Commonwealth Court judge is expected to rule on the legality of this law by mid-August, and appeals to the state’s Supreme Court, and possibly to the Federal Court, are certain.

The argument from Voter ID advocates that this requirement is similar to requiring photo ID to fly on an airplane or enter a government building is an “apples-to-oranges comparison” said State Senator Vincent Hughes. “Voting is a constitutional right. Gaining access to a building is a privilege.”

Pennsylvania is one of nine states — all with Republican-run legislatures and Republican governors — that currently have restrictive voting measures in effect. In other voter-suppression-law states like South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, restrictive measures are currently suspended due to legal challenges.

“It’s no secret that these Voter ID laws are to disenfranchise certain people…people who tend to vote Democratic,” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “The right to vote does not exclude persons with no ID.”

Two of the nine states with ID restrictions in place – Florida and Ohio – faced criticism during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections respectively, because Republican officials had implementing voter suppression schemes that aided GOP candidates by disenfranchising registered Democratic voters.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, for example, famously secured the White House in 2000 by supposedly winning Florida by 537 votes. Bush’s brother, then Florida Gov Jeb Bush, initiated a voter roll purge that stripped voting rights from nearly 50,000 residents by falsely claiming they were convicted felons ineligible to vote in the Sunshine State. (Subsequent forensic studies have shown that had all votes been counted instead of having the courts halt that process in mid-stream, Bush would have lost the state, and the presidential election, by tens of thousands of votes.)

Before 2011, only two states “had ever imposed strict voter ID requirements,” stated a report from the Brennan Center for Justice. Restrictions catalogued by the Brennan Center include limiting early voting and limits on voter registration efforts.

Voter ID is one of many voting restrictions popping up around the United States, the country that ironically expends billions of dollars, allegedly to install democracy abroad, including waging resource- draining wars.

Meanwhile, Governor Corbett’s stated concerns about protecting integrity in voting through the Voter ID law apparently do not apply to his own political campaigns. Corbett, for example, is receiving increasing scrutiny for allegedly stalling the Attorney
General Office’s investigation of now convicted Penn State University child molester Jerry Sandusky while Corbett, as A.G., was campaigning for governor.

Corbett received over $200,000 in campaign contributions from board members of Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation for his gubernatorial race, despite the fact that his AG Office was then investigating Sandusky.

Further, as the state’s latest governor, Corbett approved a $3-million grant to Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation, putting that grant on hold only after the AG’s Office formally filed sex abuse charges against Sandusky. The evidence of Sandusky’s abuses by that point was of course already in the hands of the A.G.’s investigators.

Corbett spokesmen have defended the governor’s refusal to return the Sandusky-related campaign contributions and the stata grant to the Second Mile organization, saying Corbett didn’t want to give public indications about the then pending Sandusky investigation – a contention critics’ call specious.

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia. 


 

 

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Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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