Increasingly, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s lack of outreach to Latinos about Voter ID looks like the work of a machine.
Philadelphia voters and activists held a silent vigil and rally July 25 in front of City Hall to protest Voter ID as partisan and an effort to suppress votes.
Recently Commonwealth officials admitted they have no evidence of a single incident of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
It is a remarkable admission. The much-publicized Voter ID requirement instituted in the state this March was never intended to address an existing issue. Instead, it is a law that envisions a crime that hasn’t occurred yet and punishes its assumed violators in advance — as in the Tom Cruise movie that gives this editorial its title.
Those same Pennsylvania officials who admitted there is no history of in-person voter fraud, also stipulated in the Commonwealth Court July 12 that they have no “evidence or argument that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”
Why institute a law, then, that potentially mutes the political voice of some 759,000 registered voters statewide (9.2 percent of all registered voters) who have no existing PennDOT photo ID? That percentage becomes even worse if you use the Philadelphia City Paper figures reported July 25 instead of the figures released by the Commonwealth. According to City Paper’s calculations, the percentage of the total registered voters lacking an existing photo ID is closer to 20 percent, at least 1,636,168 registered voters. Moreover, according to that report, a staggering 43 percent of the population of the city of Philadelphia may not possess the proper ID to vote.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that those segments of the population most affected by the institution of Voter ID are also those who are perceived as least likely to politically support the mostly Republican state legislators who pushed the bill through committee, or the Republican governor who signed it into law, or any GOP presidential candidate they might care to endorse in November: minorities, transgender folks, college students, lower-income earners and the homeless. And Latinos.
Very especially Latinos.
A number of the states that have already approved photo Voter ID laws — or will institute them if they’re given preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act— are also states with large or rapidly expanding Latino populations: South Carolina, Texas and Alabama. And when Pennsylvania House majority leader Mike Turzai listed the House and Senate accomplishments to the Republican State Committee July 3, mentioning the Voter ID victory “which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” the boast bolstered the perception that the photo card was always intended to prevent and discourage traditionally Democratic populations — like Latinos — from voting at all in the upcoming election.
This past weekend at the motor vehicle licensing center in Frazer-Malvern — which serves Chester County with its thriving Latino population — those waiting in the hard plastic chairs for their names to be called had to really search to find any materials on the new photo ID. What was there was obviously hastily produced — copied, not printed — and hidden among the more colorful pamphlets and publications. The section with Spanish-language materials had nothing — not even a single copy of the information necessary to secure a photo ID.
Coupled with the fact that in mid-July it was discovered that the Spanish-language version of votespa.com web portal had its visible Voter ID information only in English, and that as we go to print, the Spanish-language site is offline altogether, the lack of outreach to Latinos seems very pointed indeed.
So, as in the film already cited, the machine is in charge. And depending on your point of view, it is either doing a terrible job or doing exactly what it was programmed to do. We find ourselves asking, as Tom Cruise does in the movie: “Where’s my minority report? Do I even have one?“
Let’s hope that — after challenges to the existing law from the ACLU and the Department of Justice — the Commonwealth’s answer to us stops being “No.”