One out of every eleven Pennsylvanians may have lost their right to vote. In the city of Philadelphia, that’s closer to one in five.
The new voter-suppression law that Pennsylvania’s legislature recently passed might mean that as many as 758,000 registered voters could get turned away at the polls. That’s more than the margin in the last presidential election, the last Senate election, the last gubernatorial election and the last race for state Attorney General. And the law hits the poorer families, seniors, college students and racial minorities the hardest, tilting the political balance away from them. And the new law isn’t the only thing standing between Pennsylvanians and their right to vote, reports Eric Andrew-Gee at the New Republic:
…It’s worth noting that Pennsylvania Republicans are not only making it harder for poor, black registered voters from casting their ballots—they’re also trying to make it harder to register in the first place. According to a lawsuit by two progressive non-profits, the state government has not been giving out voter registration forms at public assistance centers of late, in contravention of federal law. The evidence is troubling: in 1995 and 1996, public assistance centers got 59,462 voter registration applications. In 2009 and 2010, they got just 4,179.
No wonder state Rep. Mike Turzai, the Republican majority leader in the state House, recently bragged about the power of the voter-suppression laws he supported in front of the state’s Republican party committee.
Pennsylvania is just one part of a nationwide push to limit who can register and vote. Through a variety of methods, state legislators have made it a project to pull the ladder up after themselves and make it harder for people to participate in the democratic process. Just look at the shoddy voter purge in Florida for a perfect example: the state, under the guidance of Gov. Rick Scott, tried to knock 180,000 registered voters off the voter rolls, putting the burden on them to prove that they’re actually eligible. The attempted purge hit plenty of eligible voters, and disproportionately affected Latino voters. The state is finally releasing the names of the people it tried to remove. Florida and many other states have proven themselves incapable of actually dealing with the repercussions of laws and policies they’ve passed. (And yet Colorado and other states have political leaders rushing to follow in Florida’s footsteps.)
The sick thing about this is that this isn’t just about the people who should be eligible to vote, but who the law bars from the polls. It’s about making it more difficult and onerous to take part in the process by which we pick our leaders. In short, it’s another factor in the demoralization strategy.
What discussion there has been in the major press has focused on the presidential election, but, as Jonathan Bernstein writes in the Washington Post:
Efforts to reduce (or enlarge) the electorate may be very important even if they don’t change a presidential election. There are thousands of important elections in the United States, and turning over even a single Senate seat can be critical for national policy, just as turning over a state legislative chamber (or even a few seats) might be important for state policy, or a city council election or school board race can be for local policy… on a more basic level, it’s critical for democracy: a polity just isn’t very democratic if it disenfranchises large portions of its population.
The NAACP has put a lot of work into fighting voter suppression and helping people exercise their right to vote. As Ari Berman noted, Mitt Romney could have addressed the importance of this issue to the NAACP in his address to them yesterday, but he declined to. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the NAACP today, and said that access to the ballot should be “expanded, not diminished.”