“To him, your celebration is a sham; … your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery….”
By Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP
In 1852, Frederick Douglas spoke these words to express the sentiments of the American Slave to an audience observing Independence Day. Now, 170 years later, these same words could reflect the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents on Election Day who will have their rights suppressed because of new voter suppression laws.
This month a Pennsylvania judge upheld a strict government voter photo ID requirement that could block nearly 800,000 voters (9 percent of the entire state voting population) from the ballot box on November 6th.
Nationally, strict photo ID laws will have the harshest impact on already marginalized populations. Studies have shown that 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of individuals over 65 do not even have the documents required to gain the proper photo identification mandated in new voter ID laws.
In Philadelphia alone, over 186,000 registered voters — or 18 percent of people registered in the city — do not have the necessary ID to exercise their right to vote. Coincidentally, Philadelphia’s minority population is the highest in Pennsylvania.
In states like Texas and Pennsylvania, the law takes it a step further, targeting students who are a part of the fastest growing voting bloc. While Texas eliminates student IDs from the list, the PA voter ID law eliminates student IDs without expiration dates. Coincidentally, the majority of Pennsylvania college and university IDs lack an expiration date. In the 14-school PASSHE system alone, which has agreed to issue compliant student IDs to incoming students but only market the option to continuing students, anestimated 120,000 students could be disenfranchised.
Unfortunately, the consequences felt by certain factions of the population in Pennsylvania are shared across the country. Suppressive tactics launched in the U.S. take advantage of the same racial, age, and economic disparities.
Proponents of such tactics continue to proclaim the protection of Election Integrity against voter fraud. In states, including Pennsylvania, these same proponents have unearthed little to no evidence of voter impersonation fraud. Instead, states have uncovered inconsistencies in their voter rolls and flaws in Election Day recording due to outdated registrar systems and election official errors.
As these technological inconsistencies continue to throw voters and election boards under the bus, states have launched an attack on a nonexistent problem, sometimes fighting against financial support set aside for improving registrars through the Help American Vote Act.
Suppressing the vote diminishes election integrity by nurturing a political environment that ignores democracy and sustains social, economic, and ethnic disparities in today’s society.
And, as the war is being fought through litigation in Texas, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania combating those restrictive voter ID laws, the vote is being suppressed by unlawful purges, cuts to early voting, and harsh registration regulations. The onus is on this country to expand the electorate rather than to restrict and shrink it.
Speaking to the crux of the attack on democracy, Harold Meyerson opined that “a presidency premised on a racist restriction of the franchise creates a political and constitutional crisis.”
If we want to ensure the integrity of our elections, we must ensure the integrity of the vote, promising that every voting-age citizen is able to cast a ballot and have it counted on Election Day. Election integrity cannot come in the form of voter suppression.
In 1852, Frederick Douglas asked “What, to an American Slave is your Fourth of July?” In 2012, the current climate forces each of us to ask: What to a proud citizen of our democracy would be a presidency “won” by the suppression of votes?