Annette John-Hall: Voter ID laws stomping over people's right to vote

Posted: July 18, 2012

When it comes to voting rights, it's hard to believe we're living in the cradle of liberty.

Feels more like ground zero for voter suppression to me.

Mild-mannered, sly-like-a-fox Gov. Corbett has joined Republican officials all over the country in advocating and passing voter ID laws, claiming the need to bring fraud under control. Pennsylvania's requirements are some of the harshest.

Except there's one big problem.

There's no fraud.

The real fraud is the scam being perpetrated on the electorate.

As House Majority Leader Mike Turzai gloated, voter ID laws will "allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

But where's the public outcry? Where's the outrage?

'Poll tax'

Well, at least Eric Holder, the nation's top litigator, has lashed out. Straying off script at the NAACP convention last week, the attorney general said as much about the voter ID laws. "Many of those without [state-issued photo] IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. . . . We call those poll taxes," he said.

He's right, of course. Finally, months after Philadelphia's Board of Elections requested it, the state reports that 186,000 citizens, or 18 percent of the city's registered voters, lack the PennDot ID required.

That's a whole lot of Obama voters, which is what Turzai acknowledged the Republicans are hoping for.

And who's surprised about that? Certainly not Angel Ortiz, who says the story goes even deeper than that.

The Corbett administration isn't only stomping all over our rights to vote with laws like voter ID; the Reapportionment Commission's failure to redraw district lines to fully reflect a growing Latino population is just as outrageous.

Ortiz, a former Philadelphia Council member, is part of a coalition of Latino activists who recently sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for violating their 14th Amendment rights by diluting the voting power of Latino citizens.

They say they were forced to accept unconstitutional representation after the state used the 2000 census to draw district lines for recent House and Senate elections.

Never mind that the Latino population statewide has increased 82 percent since the 2000 census, with Allentown, Reading, and Philadelphia experiencing the biggest surge. In Philly, for instance, the Latino population increased by more than 45 percent, a rate much higher than the overall growth of the city.

Not reflected

Yet none of that increase was reflected in the district maps the state Reapportionment Commission is required to redraw every 10 years so that every citizen's vote carries equal weight.

In fact, the state Supreme Court turned down the commission's initial maps and sent it back to the drawing board. (The commission is still waiting to see if its revised version gets the court's OK.)

In the meantime, Latinos are pushing for a special election "to fix the errors that have occurred," says Nancy Trasande, legal counsel for Latino Justice. "Given the population shifts within the state, if you're using the old lines in elections, you're disenfranchising a whole group of voters."

And in Pennsylvania, it seems as if Latinos may get a double whammy. Not only are they underrepresented in their districts, they will probably have to jump through extra hoops to obtain voter ID because of rules in Puerto Rico that require them to apply for new birth certificates with enhanced security features.

Ortiz, for one, is outraged. But he acknowledges that sometimes he feels he's yelling into an echo chamber.

"The redistricting farce is a shameful activity. They have ignored us and therefore disenfranchised the entire state, and I don't hear any outrage," Ortiz says. "This is supposed to be a place of independence, but with these lines and the ID bill, we've become the laughingstock of the nation."

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986, or on Twitter @Annettejh

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