Disenfranchised by Politics or Apathy?

Judge Robert Simpson

Judge Robert Simpson

Wednesday’s decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson to uphold the new Pennsylvania voter ID law was neither surprising nor was it the final word on the mater.  Simpson’s decision is just the first step in a judicial review process that will definitely end up in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and perhaps even wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

To make matters worse for those who oppose the law, Judge Simpson laid out a detailed, well-reasoned 70-page opinion supporting the Pennsylvania legislature’s power to regulate elections in this way, and refused to issue an injunction that would hold off implementation of the law’s requirements until the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania hears the inevitable appeal.  Despite moving testimony from individuals who claimed unnecessary burdens to exercising their right to vote, Simpson found that the law applies equally to all Pennsylvanians in a politically neutral, non-discriminatory manner.

As a result, the law will be viewed as constitutional in Pennsylvania until such time as adequate proof can be mustered to support claims of discriminatory restriction.  This is a daunting task for the critics.  And even considering the normal route to challenge such laws in federal court as an affront to the Voting Rights Act, the law’s opponents face the reality that a similar law – applied by Indiana in 2008 – was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Simpson’s ruling appears to remove the specter that the law’s requirements are too difficult to meet in the 5 months between its March 2012 passage and the November election.  Opposition to the law attempted to feed just such a perception through tales of elderly and poor working class voters at the mercy of inconsistent documentation requirements and inadequately trained clerks in far off, hard to reach PENNDOT offices.  

Victory on appeal is going to be a tough nut to crack now that Judge Simpson has laid out a solid footing for its constitutionality.  

By now you have heard all the arguments; listened to the vitriol from those on both sides of the issue; gotten into a few heated discussions; and perhaps, came to decide for yourself whether Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is a legitimate attempt to further secure our vote or a blatant attempt by one political party to gain an election year advantage over their opponents. 

As I am often motivated to do in such cases where most of the obvious arguments have already been made, I suggest we leave legal wranglings to the judges, the lawyers, and the politicians; and instead, let’s take a look at how the law has affected voter and political behavior.

Philadelphia Councilman Bill Green

Already we have numerous election officials, exclusively Democrats, who now say they will not enforce the legally passed, Court-affirmed election law.  From poll watchers to at least one Judge of Elections we hear from those who have decided to take interpretation of the law into their own hands and will not enforce the law.  In Philadelphia, City Councilman Bill Green tweeted, “Let them come and enforce it!  If WE believe it violates the Constitution, we have the RIGHT to keep our OATH.”  (Emphasis added.)  

And suddenly all those suspicions about urban politicians ginning up election numbers based on their own, personal interpretation of what is “constitutional” and lawful do not seem all that far-fetched.

Personally, I have been muttering for weeks over the inconsistent coverage the voter ID issue has received in local media.  On television news, you rarely hear a word about the new law.  Yet newspapers and on-line media outlets – like our local Patch network – have been a constant resource for discussions of the law’s requirements, the difficulties experienced in its execution, and in a lot of cases reader-fueled demagoguery over the motivations of both politicians and activists.  All good stuff when it meshes with the goal promoting awareness of the new law and its requirements far in advance of Election Day

On the other hand, my normal paper ‘n ink habit – The Philadelphia Inquirer – killed many a tree on some days running multiple articles from different perspectives, overwhelmingly in opposition to the voter ID law.  That anyone would be surprised by that would be … well … surprising.  And yet, even their attempts to portray the law as an onerous affront to voting rights provided an interesting peek at the REAL problem that should be scaring the bejesus out of Pennsylvania’s Democrats.

In a July 12 article, Karen Heller of The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that only 2744 Pennsylvanians had obtained new voter photo identification.  

That’s only 0.28% (based on the most draconian predictions of 1 million potentially disenfranchised voters) have pursued the documentation and ID requirements to a successful conclusion.  This phenomena cannot be attributed to any unreasonable level of documentation requirements, or even those claims that PENNDOT’s ID-issuing system is not up to the task.

0.28% … My own attempts to downplay the 1 million voter claim would bump that all the way up to 0.6%!

There is no doubt on my part that the claims of 1 million affected voters was way overstated.  Yet by even the most conservative estimates,  the response in active attempts to obtain the necessary ID goes beyond the definition of “anemic”.  Even if one takes a leap of faith that new voter IDs issued before November grows by several orders of magnitude, the end result would fall woefully short of what anyone could define as an honest attempt on the part of the potentially disenfranchised to meet the law’s requirements.  

0.28 % … It suggests rather loudly that not enough people care.  That to them the effort isn’t worth it.  What this says about the Pennsylvania electorate goes so much deeper than nefarious plots to influence the outcome of an election or the prospect of hundreds of illegal voters flooding inner city polling places.  It’s an admission that many voters simply don’t care; don’t pay attention; and perhaps worse of all, don’t want to make any effort to comply with a simple authentication requirement.

0.28% = Not even trying …

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