Friday, July 27, 2012

Democracy in Pennsylvania

No matter who is in power, no matter how much power the rich and the corporate empire have, no matter how feckless and idiotic and remote to reality that the media gets, no matter how your views and your voice go uncomprehended and unheard, in America you have one power, one act, one node of participation that--when joined with others who might be similarly outcast--can be decisive.  You have the vote.

That's why ongoing GOPer voter suppression efforts are such a basic threat.  They are clearly, manifestly and pretty openly attempts to deep six democracy, by preventing people they fear and don't like from voting.  Voter suppression laws passed in states where GOPers are in total power--most of that having happened in 2010--now cover a majority of the American electorate.

Every study shows that those who are most likely to be newly ineligible to vote are the poor, non-whites, urbanites, the young and the old.  Except for the category of the old, those groups tend to vote for Democrats.

I have watched from afar, and with weary dismay, as my home state, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, rapidly deteriorates under the 2010 extreme version of GOPer rule.  By gutting or ignoring environmental protections, and even preventing municipalities from governing their own zoning, PA is trying very hard to turn itself into West Virginia: an Appalachia of a few rich and a lot of poor run by fossil fuels corporations, in a rapid race to the bottom, while destroying its own natural habitat.  They have bought into all the other extremes as well, including unconstitutional and unconscionable intrusions on women's health and reproductive rights.

But if any of these are worst, it is the Pennsylvania voter suppression law.  Studies indicate that a million citizens may not be permitted to vote, including--incredibly-- 43% of the population of Philadelphia.

The intent is very clear, even if a PA GOPer legislator hadn't admitted it.  As TMP wrote: "The number of Pennsylvania voters who most likely lack a valid form of photo identification now doubles President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in the Keystone state in 2008. A group contracted to educate voters about the new law is stacked with Republicans and is headed by a bundler for Mitt Romney."    

The best hope of overturning this law is the suit by the ACLU and others that went to court last week and is likely to be decided next week.  Though incredibly the official defenders of the law admitted there was no evidence at all of voter fraud--supposedly the reason for the law--they propose the rationale that the legislature was within its rights to regulate voting, an argument that apparently convinced the U.S. Supremes to uphold a voter ID law in Indiana.

However, those attacking the law have strong arguments based on the Pennsylvania constitution, which makes voting a fundamental right.  A procession of witnesses stating their right to vote is being denied began the proceedings.  There are other arguments as well, though I'm not sure they are making them: the arbitrary and capricious nature of the ID being required (a college student in PA--interning at Lawrence O'Donnell's  show--discovered that her student ID is not valid because it doesn't show an expiration date), and in particular the burden of obtaining an ID before the November elections.  This example demonstrates what some observers fear: that a lot of people believe they have the required ID but don't (the ACLU estimates a million), and may not find out until they're denied a ballot on election day.  A lot of people also don't even know they must bring a required ID to the polls or they lose their right to vote.

At issue on a federal level is the nature of the law as equivalent to a poll tax, as Attorney General Eric Holder noted.  That's because getting an ID solely for the purpose of voting (which may well require paying for a birth certificate) is a financial burden for people who have the gall to be poor and/or old and infirm, and still consider themselves citizens with the right to vote.  So the U.S. Justice Department is also looking into the PA law.

As a Pennsylvanian born and bred, I believe the state court will overturn this law, and that the PA Supreme Court will uphold that decision, and declare it invalid for this election.  But even before that decision, there is already resistance: one local election official has announced he will not enforce the law.  The Florida voter suppression efforts by means of culling registration rolls have fallen into disarray, partly and decisively because local election officials refused to cooperate.

Changes in voter eligibility has only gone one way in American history: it has expanded.  To begin taking away rights--and especially this fundamental right--is not just a step backward.  It is a goosestep towards the abyss.

Above photo: AP/ Sacramento Bee.

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