The voter ID law lives on in limbo

    The GOP’s voter suppression efforts in Pennsylvania hang by a thread. In a nutshell, here’s what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court essentially said yesterday, when it punted the ID law back to the lower court judge, Robert Simpson, who had upheld the law in August:

    “We’re not happy with the way this photo-ID requirement is working out. The state bureaucracy has made such a mess of things that a lot of legitimate voters might get screwed. So now the burden of proof is now on you, Judge Simpson, to prove that they won’t get screwed. And if you can’t prove that, then you’ve got to put the law in limbo until after the November election.”

    That quote doesn’t appear in the high court ruling, of course, because judges don’t write in everyday colloquial language. Here’s what the 4-2 majority actually said: “Upon review, we find that the disconnect between what the law prescribes and how it is being implemented has created a number of conceptual difficulties in addressing the legal issues raised.”

    Conceptual difficulties . . .That’s a good one. Let’s translate it.

    The high court pointed out that the Republican lawmakers and the Republican governor originally promised that voters who lacked government-issued photo IDs would be able to get them fairly easy, thus protecting everyone’s sacred right to vote (as guaranteed by the state constitution). But then came all the “conceptual difficulties” – like the fact that the various state agencies charged with satisfying the demand for photo IDs have been throwing up all kinds of bureaucratic hurdles, including what the high court calls “a rigorous application process” that is “contrary to the law’s liberal access requirement.” Plus the fact that PennDOT, the main agency entrusted with the job of fully enfranchising the photo-less voters, has issued IDs to only 9000 people – which is less than 10 percent of all the people who need the IDs – in part because there aren’t enough PennDOT offices, in part because the bureaucrats keep changing the rules on the fly.

    All this, with only 48 days left on the election clock.

    “Given this state of affairs,” the high court said, “we are not satisfied with (Judge Simpson’s) mere predictive judgment” that the state will get IDs for all the aggrieved voters in time for election day. Simpson’s August optimism, the high court disdainfully said, was “based primarily on the assurances of government officials” – assurances that the court clearly finds lacking. As the majority ruling put it, “We are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the (state) to bring the new identification procedure into effect within a relatively short time frame, and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless…”

    The court majority is clearly concerned that some legit voters will be left high and dry, devoid of photo IDs, and thus disenfranchised. The majority also knows darn well who those voters are: “There is little disagreement…that the population involved includes members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society – the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged.” And if even one of those voters gets turned away for lack of a photo ID, that would be a violation of “constitutional norms” – a breach of the state provision which decrees that “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

    The high court could’ve halted the law, at least for the ’12 election, by issuing its own preliminary injunction. It stopped just short of doing so. (The two dissenting judges were furious about that.) Instead, the majority tossed the whole farce back into Simpson’s lap and assigned him the task of determining whether everyone without photo IDs will be getting them. Indeed, the majority made the criteria so strict that Simpson almost has to put the law on ice. He has to decide, by Oct. 2 the latest, whether the law will be a total success. The majority is insisting on “no voter disenfranchisement,” and anything short of perfection means that Simpson will be “obliged” to put the law in limbo for 2012.

    So that’s where things stand. Stay tuned for perhaps the final act, two weeks hence. The Republican bid to suppress the vote, and swipe the state for Mitt Romney, is now on virtual life support. Who says there’s never any good news?

    ——-

    Meanwhile, we have a news update from The Daily Mitt.

    Yesterday afternoon, while cocooned in the friendly confines of Fox News, he sought to defend the fundraising video that showed him voicing contempt for nearly half the American people. He told the compliant Fox host that it was “an entirely foreign concept” for the government to “take from some to give to others.”

    I did not know this! I never realized that the popular 77-year-old Social Security program, which takes payroll tax money from young workers and gives benefits to seniors, was “an entirely foreign concept.” I never realized that the popular 47-year-old Medicare program, which takes money from taxpayers and gives health benefits to seniors, was “an entirely foreign concept.” Heck, I never realized that the progressive tax system, which was founded in 1862 and took disproportionately more money from the richest taxpayers in order to fund the Civil War and save the union, was “an entirely foreign concept.” And I never realized that the modern progressive tax system, the basis of our government safety net, which was embedded into our system by a U.S. constitutional amendment in 1913, was actually “an entirely foreign concept.”

    I asked here yesterday whether this guy was ever going to stop digging. Now we have the answer.

     

    ——-

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

     

     

     

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.