Recently enacted voter identification laws are the hot-button issue in Pennsylvania and several other states. These laws, touted by supporters as a necessary action against voter fraud, are labeled by opponents as thinly disguised voter suppression.
The latest move by the Corbett administration to keep Pennsylvania’s voter ID law in place is a response by his general counsel, James Schultz, refusing to comply with a United States Department of Justice request for a lengthy list of documents that could support the contention that the voter ID law is discriminatory. In response, Schultz suggests that the DOJ request is politically motivated and “unprecedented,” while simultaneously suggesting the DOJ should instead reopen the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case of 2008. Schultz also wrote that unlike the petitioners in the Commonwealth Court litigation, the DOJ has no authority to request or compel the production of the requested information.
“With respect to your letter, I am constrained to note the lack of authority for the Department of Justice’s unprecedented attempt to compel the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to produce information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA (Voting Rights Act), or other federal laws relating to voting,” Schultz wrote. “In light of the absence of authority for your request for information, I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting rights laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation. Ironically, this renders your inquiry subject to the same criticism that opponents of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law have lodged in questioning its merit.”
Schultz then added that any questions regarding the law were answered by Judge Robert Simpson last week. Simpson upheld the new law and stated his reasons in a 70-page opinion. Simpson’s decision is now being appealed before the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
In Schultz’s letter, dated Friday, August 17, Schultz said that the Department of Justice has made Pennsylvania the latest state targeted over legislation meant to ensure the integrity of the voting process by eliminating the possibility of voter fraud. An integrity, which the Commonwealth itself pointed out, hasn’t really been assaulted.
“This law was rushed through the House and the State Senate,” said Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire at a press conference following Simpson’s ruling.
State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams said he found Simpson’s ruling not only disheartening but disturbing.
“Judge Simpson seemed to signify that he’s more interested in potential hardships on the state than on voters, that he wasn’t ‘convinced any qualified elector need be disenfranchised’ by this law. In his opinion, this law ‘imposes only a limited burden on voters’ rights,’” Williams said.
“Any burden, even one instance of voter disenfranchisement, is a blemish on the Constitution that we all claim to hold dear. If one looks at the body of law, it has always been about inclusion, making sure it’s easier for people participate. This ruling effectively says that in this country, in this state, where democracy as we know it and have revered it was born, some people just don’t count. As an American, that’s disheartening — and disturbing.”
The Department of Justice has managed to block similar laws in Texas and South Carolina. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a voter identification law in the state of Indiana.
In July, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote to Carol Aichele, secretary of the Commonwealth, requesting information regarding the state’s compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In short, Section 2 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color. Discrimination in voting applies to any voting standard, practice, or procedures that result in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race or color. Perez then requested, among other documents, the complete state voter registration list and the driver’s license and state personal identification card list.
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also stated that Pennsylvania will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania.
“To say I’m disappointed, even disgusted, would be a considerable understatement. The slow erosion of rights never bodes well for a society’s health, and that’s evident throughout history. Today, law-abiding citizens have been told that in order for them to exercise what is supposed to be their constitutionally-guaranteed rights, they will have to spend extra money and time — then hope for the best,” Williams said.
Larry Miller is a Crime Reporter for The Philadelphia Tribune. Contact Larry at firstname.lastname@example.org