Pennsylvania has become the new battleground in the high-stakes brawl over voting rights, with the courts now weighing in on the legality of new rules enacted by a Republican legislature. The changes could lead to at least a tenth of the state’s voters being rendered ineligible to cast ballots in November.
The changes in the Pennsylvania laws have galvanized not just advocacy groups that are fighting against the laws being enacted but also Republicans who claim that they are simply trying to curb voter fraud.
The new rules require that, in order to vote, Pennsylvanians must have state-issued photo identification cards that are current. But there are about 500,000 registered voters in the state whose identification cards have expired. In the past, a voter could establish his or her eligibility by showing, say, a utility bill.
During hearings in a Pennsylvania state court this week, Matt A. Barreto, a University of Washington political scientist with extensive background in polling, testified that his research found that more than one million registered voters, or about 12.7 percent of the state’s registered voters, lacked valid identification to cast ballots under the new law.
A decision is expected to be reached late next week.
Barreto, who conducted the survey for a number of civil liberties groups challenging the law in court, testified that the number increases to 14.4 percent when the total number of eligible voters in Pennsylvania is taken into account. Moreover, recent polls have indicated that roughly a third of voters are unaware of the new requirements.
He and other civil rights and advocacy groups, principally the American Civil Liberties Union, have complained that the new law would effectively disenfranchise a large number of voters who are African-American, Latino, elderly or students.
“This is the broadest rollback of voting rights that we have seen in a century,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, in an interview with BET.com.
“You have no evidence of voter fraud, but clear evidence that this would amount to voter suppression. This is a move by the legislature to rig the election so that Mitt Romney can win.”
To underscore that point, Browne-Dianis and other leaders of civil rights and advocacy groups have pointed to a statement by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai. Speaking to a gathering of the Republican State Committee, Turzai listed the accomplishments of the Republican controlled legislature in Pennsylvania.
"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done," Turzai said, "First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
Browne-Dianis said that the political motivation of the law is “indisputable,” adding that the new laws will particularly disenfranchise Black Pennsylvanians.
“We have seen turnout in the Black community grow in the last election,” she said. “Now they are changing the rules on us. It’s a crime.”
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