Commentary: An Assault on Voting Rights in Pennsylvania

Commentary: An Assault on Voting Rights in Pennsylvania

The decision by a Pennsylvania court to uphold Republican-led voter-law changes is a disappointing one.

Published August 16, 2012

For much of modern American history, the courts have been the source of great support and encouragement for African-American justice. Since the 1950s, the courts have struck down laws governing school segregation and justices and their courts have ruled to defend integration in housing and commerce.

But every now and then the courts get it wrong — lately with alarming frequency.

That was the case this week when a Pennsylvania court let stand in place a law that effectively denies the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Black, brown, elderly and college students.

Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature enacted changes in voter laws requiring Pennsylvanians to 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.

In fact, during a hearing earlier this month 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.

What Pennsylvania’s legislature — and the state’s court — has now co-signed is an offensive move that echoes the illegal and unconstitutional  poll taxes and literacy tests that were widely used in the south to discriminate against Black and poor aspiring voters.

In the meantime, one can only hope that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will consider the matter more fairly on appeal before the lower court decision stands for the November election.

What makes the court decision especially disappointing and obscene is the fact that there is no doubt about the fact that the law was politically motivated to assist the campaign of Mitt Romney by denying Democratic leaning Black and other voters from casting ballots easily.

The evidence came from 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," a boasting Turzai ticked off. "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."

Pennsylvania is, alas, not alone. There is a list that is far too long of states led by Republicans who would do anything — even obstruct the rights of minority, elderly and young voters — in their frenzied zeal to defeat President Obama.

In nearby Ohio, for example, the Republican secretary of state has allowed a plan that would allow Republican-leaning counties to have extended voting times and those of urban, Democratic counties to be shortened. 

In Florida, former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer described a systemic effort by Republicans to suppress the black vote. The state is now in a heated controversy about Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to purge voters from the rolls. In his original purge list, 58 percent of those to be removed were Latino in a state where that demographic group accounts  for 13 percent of the vote.

The pattern is now as widespread as it is outrageous. Republicans say they are worried about the possibility of voter fraud, but there is no evidence of even a modest level of such crimes taking place. Nor did they feel it compelling enough an issue to push for changes in voter laws for the series of Republican primaries earlier this year.  

The expansion of the right to vote is something that elected officials should support unquestionably. Instead, what is occurring in the Age of Obama is nothing less than assault on the voting rights of Americans, one that any United States citizen should consider appalling and disheartening.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

BET Politics - Your source for the latest news, photos and videos illuminating key issues and personalities in African-American political life, plus commentary from some of our liveliest voices. Click 
here to subscribe to our newsletter.

(Photo: John C. Whitehead/The Patriot-News/AP/File)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


Latest in news