Earlier, in July, Judge Simpson had upheld the ID requirements, signed into law in March. This ruling was immediately appealed to the State Supreme Court by the group of plaintiffs opposing it; a group which includes attorneys for the ACLU, the NAACP, and registered voters who had been unable to produce documents necessary to obtain the ID.
The State Supreme Court then sent the case back to Simpson with explicit instructions to determine whether any voters would be disenfranchised by the law. Simpson held a new hearing, in which the DOS asserted that, despite a multitude of unanticipated glitches, they were bending over backwards to ease the process of obtaining ID. They assured the judge that all eligible voters could obtain the necessary ID by Election Day.
However, the plaintiff group easily demonstrated, with witness after witness, that there were so many hurdles and snafus occurring in the process that there was no chance that every voter needing ID could get it by Election Day. Judge Simpson duly found that the law would indeed cause voter disenfranchisement, and he enjoined its implementation until at least after this election.
The rub: he allowed the state, since they intend to go forward implementing the law for future elections, the latitude to ask for but not require government-issued photo ID for this election. Simpson also allowed that the state’s voter outreach materials could be designed to reflect the eventual need for proper ID.
The situation going forward from this slightly complicated decision announced on October 2nd would have been ripe for confusion even if Pennsylvania State officials had any intention of acting in good faith. Pennsylvania State officials did not have any intention of acting in good faith.
Following the decision, official state voter education efforts have ranged in approach from what could be generously described as ineffective and confusing, to deliberately misleading. Ultimately it has become clear that there is a conscious effort to discourage voters without proper ID from coming to the polls, by implying that without ID they will be denied a ballot.
I posted previously about the first signs that the PA DOS would not go out of its way to reassure voters that they would not be tripped up at the polls on Election Day if they didn't have the right identification. The official Pennsylvania voter education website, votespa.com, had pulled out the stops when it was time to inform voters they would have to show ID. Once ordered to drop the requirement, they made subtle changes to small-font wording in graphics that retained the overall message that voters would have to show ID to vote. As of this writing, the confusing homepage graphics remain.
Since then, the disinformation tactics have grown egregiously worse, including mailings, ads, and robo-calls still telling voters that they must produce ID to vote.
These dirty tricks by top Pennsylvania officials, public servants, expressly charged with facilitating fair elections for the furtherance of democracy, shock the conscience. Corrupting the central process of the democratic system, the vote, is not only morally wrong, it is pragmatically stupid. Apparently these political leaders cannot imagine a time in which their own views and policies would be so popular that they would be eager to see the highest levels of voter participation possible, and would want to be able to rely on a sturdy, credible election process.
As various transparent attempts at suppression have come to light, the same (irrepressible) plaintiff group has assembled proof that the disenfranchisement forbade by the State Supreme Court, and ruled against by Judge Simpson, is occurring now.
On Friday the group filed a petition against the State to appear before Judge Simpson asking that he intervene again and shut down these increasingly aggressive and devious efforts to reduce turnout among - let's be clear - likely Obama voters.
Some of the text from the ACLU press release on Friday:
Misleading Voters About the Need for ID on Election Day
False and Misleading Information May Lead to Some Voters Staying Home
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE October 19, 2012
HARRISBURG, PA - The legal team challenging Pennsylvania’s voter ID law filed a petition today asking Judge Robert Simpson to order the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to stop disseminating false information about the need for photo ID on Election Day and to make it to clear to the public that ID will not be required to vote in the November 6 election. This request comes in the wake of several recent mailings by both governmental and non-governmental entities that contained outdated information about the law and have added to voter confusion.
In their petition, (the plaintiffs) argue that unless this misinformation is corrected, some eligible voters will stay home on Election Day because they mistakenly believe they need ID to vote in this election…(T)he Commonwealth has circulated misinformation about the voter ID law to voters. Last week, thousands of Pennsylvania seniors received a mailing…that included a Dept. of State card about the voter ID law. The card incorrectly states: "Voters are required to show photo ID on Election Day.”
(C)ounsel has received dozens of complaints (about) radio and TV ads that still say voters need photo ID to vote. As recently as October 11, some PennDOT locations were still displaying outdated posters and information telling people they need ID to vote. In their motion, petitioners argue that the Commonwealth has failed to clearly inform the public that the voter ID law will not be in effect for the November 2012 election. Rather than creating ads that clearly state this information, the Commonwealth instead chose to continue with its “Show It” campaign and merely add the phrase “if you have it” in small print to note that ID would not be required. These minimal changes to the “Show It” campaign are not enough to combat previous efforts by the Commonwealth to publicize the law, including multiple press releases, press conferences, and a postcard mailing in September to all registered voters.
The petitioners are asking the Commonwealth Court to issue an order requiring that the Commonwealth send notices with correct information to anyone who received false information from the state since October 2 about the law; immediately cease running any ads that still tell voters they must have photo ID to vote; re-word robocalls scheduled for the run-up to the election; issue a clarifying press release to all media outlets; and direct Secretary Carol Aichele to hold a press conference announcing that photo ID is not required to vote this Election Day.
ACLU of Pennsylvania
Judge Simpson is a Republican, and has not by any means rolled over to the plaintiffs on this issue. It took several rounds of hearings and appeals before he agreed to grant the injunction, and that was only a reprieve to the law for this election. But he did ask discerning questions during the hearings that indicated a concern that voters not be shut out of the democratic process. His hesitation to strike down the law altogether appeared to be based on a confidence in the State that they were motivated by legitimate concerns about the security of the ballot, and committed to protecting the rights of eligible voters.
At some point he must surely begin to feel offended by their failure to live up to that confidence. Simpson is no partisan zealot. He comes across as professional and fair-minded. And he is human. So it must begin to feel like a slap in the face to find that his trust in the Republican leaders of the Commonwealth has been flouted in this way.