Over the last couple of years, voter suppression by the GOP has been a central concern for civil rights activists, and the interest was sharpened last week in Pennsylvania when a judge rejected a challenge to a law requiring voter identification.
This ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson Jr., a Republican, gives the advocates of voter ID firmer ground to stand on regarding a law that, in many instances, harkens back to the Jim Crow era and before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For many voters, particularly minorities and people of color who have traditionally voted Democratic, there is the concern that the ruling will spread across the country and make it difficult for them to vote.
Requiring voter ID not only creates confusion among the electorate, it is a challenge for seniors and the poor unable to afford the requirement.
However, the law has not been put into effect and at the moment is in the appeal process in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where one of the seven justices is not available, which makes a tie all the more possible in an evenly divided court of Democrats and Republicans. A tie will not reverse the decision.
Regardless, many believe that the controversy surrounding the law is a good thing since it throws light on the issue.
“Judge Simpson’s ruling changed the game and really focused attention on this issue in a lot of different places,” Zack Stalberg, president of the Committee of 70, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “In that sense it was good, whether you agree with it or not.”
Clearly, the NAACP, which has been monitoring the case, does not agree with the decision.
“This, like other state laws enacted across the U.S., has the potential to suppress thousands of votes in the commonwealth during this election,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, told the press. “The NAACP, in conjunction with its state conferences, will continue to combat these efforts on the ground and mobilize voters. We will have to fight for our right to vote again.”
If the law gains traction in Pennsylvania, it could have a crucial effect on the results of the presidential election, dramatically impacting the narrow margin President Barack Obama has over Mitt Romney. According to recent polls, Obama has about a 6 percent lead among Pennsylvania voters, which would be narrowed considerably if a large number of potential Democratic voters are denied access to voting booths.
The selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate was viewed by many pundits as a game changer, but Simpson’s decision may prove to be even more consequential. Clearly, the voter ID issue has found its critical vortex.