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How to Disenfranchise 18 Percent of Philadelphia’s Electorate

Aura Bogado Jul 10, 2012

We’ve seen state officials around the country flat-out lie about the imaginary problem of voter fraud—and we’ve seen how people of color and other marginalized groups stand to have their rights swiftly confiscated in the process. This time, voters in Pennsylvania will feel the brunt of a bill signed into law this past March, which may disenfranchise nearly 10 percent of voters statewide, and 18 percent of voters in Philadelphia.

Although Secretary of Commonwealth Carol Aichele has repeatedly stated that 99 percent of Pennsylvania voters were already in possession of the identification needed to comply with the new law, her numbers were way off. The deliberate or accidental overestimate means that the state is stuck with a law that will potentially disenfranchise 758,939 voters.

In a press release dubiously titled “Department of State and PennDOT Confirm Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID,” issued Tuesday, her own office illustrates that more than 180,000 of Philadelphia’s voters lack the proper ID to cast a ballot. More than 44 percent of Philadelphia is African-American.

Pennsylvania’s strict voter ID law means that only certain forms of identification are acceptable. Even government issued photo ID cards without an expiration date aren’t acceptable. A hearing on the voter ID bill is scheduled for July 25.

Meanwhile, Aichele and two other state secretaries face an additional lawsuit, alleging violations to the National Voter Registration Act. Also known as Motor Voter, the federal law requires registration forms be made available at a variety of state-run agencies, so that a larger part of the potential electorate can participate.

The suit, filed yesterday by a coalition of voting rights groups, claims that Pennsylvania is systematically barring low-income individuals from obtaining registration forms, because they are not offered at public assistance agencies throughout the state. Less than 20 years ago, nearly 60,000 people registered per year while interacting with a public assistance agency. Yet in 2009 and 2010, less than 5,000 people did so. The 93 percent drop in registration is especially alarming because the number of food stamps requests nearly doubled during that time.

Is Florida Purge Racist?
A new Spanish-language ad claims Florida’s purge isn’t only illegal, but racist. While Latinos make up just 16 percent of the  state’s electorate, the purge has targeted up to 61 percent of Latino voters there. Although Florida’s election supervisors have effectively stopped the purge, the mechanisms are still in place to remove voters, and can be re-started at any time. MoveOn’s ad features a U.S. and a foreign-born citizen, denouncing the purge’s systemically racist effect, and challenging presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney to do the same.

Michigan Governor Backs Away from Voter Suppression
In a surprise turn, Michigan’s governor vetoed a set of voter suppression bills. Lawmakers in Michigan, which is already home to a voter ID law, sought to make it nearly impossible for voter registration groups to simply do their job, and to create other obstacles for upcoming elections. In his veto statement, Gov. Rick Snyder reminded his constituents that the bills would create unnecessary confusion, and that “voting rights are precious.” One can only hope other legislators will agree—not only in Michigan, but nationwide.

Right to Vote Maintained in North Carolina
North Carolina’s legislature was unable to override Governor Bev Perdue’s veto of a voter ID bill. Perdue rejected the bill more than a year ago, but Republican leaders announced they had enough votes to override her decision. That failed this week, and the nearly half-a-million voters who could have been negatively affected are safe there. For now. 

DOJ may have Last Word in New Hampshire
New Hampshire legislators overrode their governor’s veto on a voter ID bill last week—but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Ten New Hampshire jurisdictions are subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers have informed the Department of Justice of the new law, and the DOJ will now have to decide whether to clear the jurisdictions, and allow voter ID.

This article was originally published by Colorlines.

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