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Voter Suppression Series: Pennsylvania

Posted: 08/29/2012 8:09 pm

It is unfortunate that this is what the country offers journalists at the moment, but this is the first of a series of articles dedicated to voter suppression efforts, each focusing on a different swing state. Pennsylvania is an interesting case, with suppression efforts largely focusing on a stringent new voter ID law. The laws are felt across the Democrats' base, however, it is the Latino community that may be hit hardest.

Despite the fact that Pennsylvania has a Republican governor and legislature, Pennsylvania has gone blue for the last 20 years in close contests. The Republican legislature then passed a measure signed into law by their Republican governor which Michael Turzai, Pennsylvania house leader, credited with handing Romney the state: a tough new voter ID law that has old black people recalling a time of overt racism when the government wouldn't let them vote.

One of these black seniors, however, decided that a couple of creaky joints wasn't an excuse to stop kicking ass. This Miss Applewhite, the 93 year old plaintiff in the case Applewhite v. PA, has never owned a driver's license. She feels deeply wronged by the prospect of losing the vote, and openly speaks about how it seems like people are trying to strip the black community of the vote again. Several plaintiffs in her case testified that they were too physically infirm to go to the DMV, and this is overlooking the other factors like transportation, time and scheduling it takes to get down to the DMV between shifts.

The judge in the Applewhite case, a partisan hack named Robert Simpson unfit to beat with my rolled-up Juris Doctorate degree, declined to delay the enforcement of the ID law until after the election. His reasoning for this was that the voters would all be able to register in time. The judge's theory overlooks two important things: 1) not everyone who wants to will have an opportunity to get to the DMV (such as the elderly and enfeebled), and 2) Pennsylvania has the lowest percentage of government workers in the nation, making a trip to their DMV worse than in any other state, with the least chance of succeeding in getting the ID they need.

What will happen when an estimated 750,000 people are disenfranchised, which is larger than the Obama's margin of victory in the state in 2008? What happens when they come flooding into a relatively low-staffed DMV in Philadelphia that is hardly ever open? Republicans know that this hurts the cities far more than it hurts their rust belt, chipping away a large portion, if not all, of the margin for Obama.

To top it all off, in perhaps the most transparent overreach in a series of transparent overreaches, the job of explaining the new voter ID rules was given to a firm owned by a major Romney donor's lobbying firm. Republican lobbyist and former state GOP executive director Chris Bravacos, who has donated $30,000 to Romney so far, received a $249,660 contract from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to explain the new law in a process reminiscent of the no bid contracts Dick Cheney was so famous for. Since then, there have been complaints that employees of this firm haven't been given the correct training, the instructions on voter ID they're giving are often confusing and contradictory and overall it has been an incompetent (if not willingly bad) job. I wonder if the profit margins from this government contract that this firm was assigned, the very money saved by not properly training employees to help people get the correct ID, didn't partially find their way into Romney's campaign fund or SuperPAC?

Who does this law hurt the worst? Unsurprisingly it's Democrat voters mostly, however, somewhat surprisingly, it's Puerto Ricans in particular. In 2010, Puerto Rico decided that all birth certificates issued before 2010 were invalid, and so many Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania do not own a valid birth certificate. With new laws coming into effect compounding the ID problem, it becomes a serious issue. "...if you are trying to get a birth certificate just to get a photo ID but you don't have a photo ID to get it, then you're in a typical Catch-22 situation" says Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project. With this new voter ID law being a recent development, many Puerto Ricans are scrambling to find some way to get a voter ID, though many of them will not be able to in time.

For Romney, Latino voters are a threat as he still trails at 22 percent to Obama's 70 percent in a recent Latino Decisions poll. These measures will harm a lot of Democrat-leaning demographics, the poor and minorities being good examples, however, nowhere will it be felt more acutely than the Latino community. Appeals are already being filed in the Applewhite case and the Justice Department is investigating, but there's no denying that Republicans will get at least some new rules through. Now it's only a question of whether or not the most egregious, controversial, transparent overreaches will be rolled back in time for the election.

 

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