Defending Voters’ Rights in Pennsylvania: The Battle Is Not Over


A visit to a PennDOT office to secure a photo ID may be very difficult for the elderly and the poor, and as a result they may drop from the voters’ rolls.

— By Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

Striking down the voter ID law was an important step in securing voters’ rights in Pennsylvania.

The well reasoned opinion of Judge Herman McGinley overturning the voter identification law takes effect subject to the high likelihood of an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That Court’s 2012 ruling withheld decision on the merits of the law, instead questioning the practical impact on voters. So there is no foretelling the result in the coming appeal.

Meanwhile, the next battle to defeat the wishes of the voting public is Governor Corbett’s proposal to award Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in presidential elections on the basis of the tally by Congressional district.  

More after the jump.
As a result of the very successful gerrymander of those districts, Republicans cast less than half the votes statewide yet elected 13 out of 18 of our state Congressional delegation in 2012. According to analysts, despite the fact that President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points in 2012, he probably would have won only 7 of the state’s 20 electoral votes if this vote rigging plan had been in effect.

The problem with the voter ID law is that many people, particularly the poor and the elderly, have no driver’s license. A visit to a PennDOT office to secure a photo ID may be very difficult for them, and as a result they may drop from the voters’ rolls.

The very detailed and careful opinion of Judge McGinley of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court permanently enjoined the voter identification law that has been challenged in court for almost two years.  

The primary thrust of this law is to require picture identification, such as a driver’s license, for any registered voter to be able to cast a ballot. This voter ID law is one of many adopted across the country, primarily by state legislatures with Republican majorities.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court received the case on motion to enjoin operation of the law temporarily, before any final trial on the merits. Acting just before the 2012 presidential election, the Court enjoined the law and sent the case back to Commonwealth Court to determine whether it places an illegal burden on the right to vote, particularly as regards people who cannot readily visit a PennDOT office to secure a photo ID.

At trial the plaintiffs presented calculations that as many as 400,000 Pennsylvania voters might find it difficult or practically impossible to qualify for the necessary photo ID. The Administration argued, in support of the law, that it is justified to address potential voter fraud. But no significant evidence of voter fraud was presented.  

Judge McGinley sifted through the many problems that would-be voters, are likely to have in trying to secure the necessary photo ID. Various efforts at curative patches put up by the Corbett Administration were rejected either as unsatisfactory to solve the problem, or as unauthorized under the law. The court ruled that the difficulties imposed on many citizens amounted to a deprivation of their right to vote.

Unfortunately, the battle against suppressing voters’ rights in Pennsylvania is not over.

November Election Post-Mortum

Gerrymandering a majority in the House

As we discussed earlier redistricting has given Republicans a 7.5% head-start in the Congressional elections, Hendrick Hertzberg agrees and notes how rare such an advantage is:

“For one party to win a majority of House seats with a minority of votes is a relatively rare occurrence. It has now happened five times in the past hundred years. In 1914 and 1942, the Democrats were the beneficiaries. In 1952, 1996, and this year, it was the Republicans’ turn to get lucky, and their luck is likely to hold for many election cycles to come. Gerrymandering routinely gets blamed for such mismatches, but that’s only part of the story. Far more important than redistricting is just plain districting: because so many Democrats are city folk, large numbers of Democratic votes pile up redundantly in overwhelmingly one-sided districts.”

Redistricting should be done with eye towards creating a map that accurately reflects the partisan makeup of that state. (Compare the map above with the one by Mark Newman after the jump.)

Former GOP leaders admit voter suppression – not voter fraud was their motivation behind voter id laws.
It’s Worth The Wait

Former Florida Republican party officials tell the Palm Beach Post that a new election law that “contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters.”

“Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.”

As the bar chart above shows, Democrats and minorities were more likely to have to wait a long time in order to exercise their right to vote. Limiting voting hours, voting locations and voting machines in urban districts is part and parcel of the Republican strategy to discourage Democratic voters. As The Atlantic reports, “No one in America should have to wait 7 hours to vote. What’s happening at polling stations in Ohio and Florida isn’t some fluke of nature or breakdown in equipment. It’s all part of a partisan design…. Phil Hirschkorn, the last “early voter” in line for Saturday’s truncated early voting in Palm Beach County finally got to cast a ballot at 2:30 a.m Sunday morning, which means that voter waited in line for more than seven hours.”

Obama Victory Margin Grows

As the votes keep coming in, David Wasserman notes President Obama’s national lead over Mitt Romney is now 50.9% to 47.4%.

First Read: “That’s a bigger (and more decisive) margin that Bush’s victory over John Kerry in 2004 (which was Bush 50.7% and Kerry 48.2%). What’s more, the president’s lead has grown to close to 3 points in Ohio, 4 points in Virginia and 6 points in Colorado. One doesn’t win Colorado by six points without winning swing voters; there isn’t a big-enough Democratic base to make that argument.”

Markos Moulitsas notes that President Obama could have lost every state he won by less than 5.4 percentage points — Florida, Ohio, and Virginia — and he still would’ve won the electoral vote 272 to 266.


Cartogram by Mark Newman
Presidential election results 1960-2012. Each county is colored according the vote in that county. Increasing shades of red mean more Republican, increasing shares of blue mean more Democrat, so purple is evenly balanced. Shades of green are used to indicate support for third party or independent candidates.

Here is a 3-d version for the 2012 election. The height of each county shows the number of votes cast.

SCOTUS Upholds “No Representation Without Population” Rule

— by Anna Pycior and Peter Wagner

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s groundbreaking No Representation Without Population Act, which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes. The 2010 law was a major civil rights victory that ended the distortions in fair representation caused by using incarcerated persons to pad the population counts of districts containing prisons.

The law upheld today is a state-based solution to the long-standing problem in the federal Census of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote there and remain residents of their home communities for virtually all other legal purposes. The practice of prison-based gerrymandering particularly harms urban communities and communities of color that disproportionately contain the home residences of incarcerated persons. Other states have since passed similar laws, but the Maryland law was the only one to go to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Fletcher v. Lamone affirmed the constitutional ‘one person one vote’ foundation of our decade-old campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the nation’s leading expert on how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations harms the democratic process.

The lawsuit was filed last November, and the civil rights community responded quickly to brief the lower court on the constitutionality of Maryland’s law. In an amicus brief, the Prison Policy Initiative and Dēmos, along with the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland and Somerset County Branch NAACP, and the fNAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund explained the basis and need for the landmark law. The lower court’s opinion, affirmed today, rejected the allegation that the law was somehow dilutive of minority voting rights, finding that the No Representation Without Population Act was an historic Maryland civil rights victory:

As the amicus brief … makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.

Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos, hailed today’s ruling in Fletcher v. Lamone:

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a huge victory for the national campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering. This decision sets an important precedent that will encourage other states to reform their redistricting laws and end the distortion in fair representation caused by treating incarcerated persons as residents of prisons.

More after the jump.
Today’s decision in Fletcher v. Lamone constitutes the most significant court ruling to date on the factual and legal justification for states to reallocate incarcerated persons to their home residences for purposes of redistricting. The ruling upheld today noted that “the Act is intended to ‘correct for the distortional effects of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of their place of incarceration.'” It further noted that

These distortional effects stem from the fact that while the majority of the state’s prisoners come from African-American areas, the state’s prisons are located primarily in the majority white First and Sixth Districts. As a result, residents of districts with prisons are systematically ‘overrepresented’ compared to other districts.

Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census.

The plaintiffs in Fletcher challenged Maryland’s right to correct where incarcerated people are counted for the purpose of drawing congressional districts. “Congressional districts are held to the highest standards to ensure population equality.” said Brenda Wright of Dēmos. “The Court’s decision that Maryland’s law satisfies the strict standards applicable to congressional districts clears the path for other states to pass similar laws at all levels of government.” New York, Delaware and California have already enacted similar legislation, and advocates are calling on the Census Bureau for a national solution. “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner.

Pennsylvania Redistricting Take 2

Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network

A new set of district maps for the Pennsylvania House and Senate was proposed on April 12, 2012, by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In response to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling in February in Holt v. LRC, the Commission proposed new maps with fewer divisions of counties and municipalities. A thirty-day period is provided for members of the public to testify at a hearing on May 2 or to file written comments with respect to the proposed maps. JSPAN and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are members of a coalition of non-profit agencies and individuals studying the newly proposed districts. We invite your comments and suggestions.

LRC Press Release After the Jump

Video continues at LRC website.
Legislative Reapportionment Commission Press Release

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, by a majority vote, approved and filed with the Secretary of State a Preliminary Reapportionment Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A copy of the Preliminary Plan is located on the Commission’s website.

In accordance with Article II, Section 17(c), of the Pennsylvania Constitution, all persons aggrieved by the Preliminary Plan must file exceptions with the Commission within thirty days of the April 12, 2012 filing date. All exceptions must be in writing and contain the name of the individual, a signature, mailing address, and daytime telephone number. Individuals who wish to submit an alternative plan with their written exceptions to the Commission are requested to file a paper copy, and, if that alternative plan is prepared using computer software, a copy of the
“shapefile” of that plan. Written exceptions to the Preliminary Plan must be received by the
Commission on or before 5:00 p.m. on May 14, 2012.
Written exceptions submitted in a traditional format may be mailed to: Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Esquire, Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120

Individuals who wish to file written exceptions via email are requested to use “Contact Us” link located at the bottom of the home page of the Pennsylvania Redistricting Website at and, in the first line of the message, type the word “EXCEPTION.”

The exception may thereafter be typed directly into the “Message” box or electronically attached
using the “Message Attachments” box.

A public hearing will also be held on May 2, 2012 at 2:00p.m., in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120 to receive any comments on the Preliminary Plan. Please note that individuals who file written exceptions to the plan and wish to present their exceptions at this hearing shall also make a request to be scheduled for that presentation at the public hearing. Please call (717) 705-6339 for additional information.

The Redistricting Vote

The Pennsylvania State House has passed the proposed congressional redistricting maps.  Nearly half of the Democrats in the House voted for it.  PoliticsPA has a rundown of who crossed party lines to vote for or against the maps.  Keegan Gibson gives his opinion on why each rep who voted against their party’s recommendations did so.  It’s interesting stuff.

Remember, everyone who voted yes was agreeing that the proposed 7th district (as shown to the right) was a good idea.

Let’s not forget who came up with this bizarrely shaped district and who approved it.  

Reprinted courtesy of Above Average Jane

Redistricting Committee Schedule

Reprinted courtesy of Above Avergage Jane

We’ve seen the proposed districts for the Pennsylvania State House and Senate, including that weird shaped district around Harrisburg.  So far we haven’t seen so much as a line segment of the proposed Congressional Districts.  The bill to accept the new boundaries (HB 5) reads at present like this:

For the purpose of electing representatives of the people of Pennsylvania to serve in the House of Representatives in the Congress of the United States, this Commonwealth shall be divided into 18 districts which shall have one Congressman each, as follows:
(1)  The First District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(2)  The Second District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(3)  The Third District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(4)  The Fourth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(5)  The Fifth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(6)  The Sixth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(7)  The Seventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(8)  The Eighth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(9)  The Ninth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(10)  The Tenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(11)  The Eleventh District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(12)  The Twelfth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(13)  The Thirteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(14)  The Fourteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(15)  The Fifteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(16)  The Sixteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(17)  The Seventeenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.
(18)  The Eighteenth District is composed of a portion of this Commonwealth.

Not much information there.  The Senate and House State Government Committees are scheduled to have a joint informational committee meeting on Dec. 12, to discuss redistricting.  There’s another informational meeting scheduled for Dec. 13th.  The House State Government Committee is scheduled to have a voting meeting on Dec. 15th and one of the issues slated for that meeting is redistricting.  Since this is Dec. 7th, a Thursday, and the 12th is a Monday there is very little time for a redistricting map to be released, let alone allow for public comment.
No one even seems to pretend that these district boundaries are drawn with no regard for party or the protection of incumbents.  It’s just impossible to take this seriously as anything other than a political exercise in the worst possible meaning of that phrase.

I do remember that there was an opportunity to make some changes in this process a few years ago and people trying to seize that opportunity were thwarted.  And now those chickens have come home to roost.

Electoral vote: Our state has historic opportunity

Pennsylvania has the chance to join an initiative to establish the popular vote for the presidency. Why play games with the electoral vote?

Bruce Ticker testified to the Pennsylvania State Government Committees arguing against the Republican attempt to re-engineer Pennsylvania’s electoral vote in their favor. His solution for a fairer Presidential election?
The National Popular Vote.

Written testimony follows the jump.
The Hon. Members of the Pennsylvania Legislature:

I love the United States. I feel so very lucky to have been born in this country. The Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and was subsequently ratified by the 13 states. Congress formally convened in March 1789 and George Washington was inaugurated as our first President on April 30, 1789.

The Constitution is a great document that has served as the foundation for our governing process. It nonetheless contains serious flaws.

I have long been concerned about the system for choosing a President as authorized by the Constitution. Why do I phrase it that way? Yes, it’s a mouthful. Wouldn’t it be simpler to call it the presidential election? This process is not an election.

Your proposal to seek an alternative to the winner-takes-all method has its merits and drawbacks. However, any process administered in the framework of the Electoral College is inequitable and insults the intelligence of the average voter.

There is only one fair and just means of selecting the people who run our government – the direct vote. Every time each of you runs for office, you trust the judgment of your constituents. You accept that. Otherwise, you would not remain part of the system.

The direct vote must also be the means for choosing our Presidents. Especially, successful presidential candidates have assumed the Presidency four times without winning the popular vote. The last time this occurred was only 11 years ago.

I respectfully request that you abandon this course and direct your energies and resources to replace the electoral college with the popular vote. I confess that until recently I thought we had only one avenue available – the amendment process. Any amendment approved by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the 50 states. Theoretically, 14 million citizens can block an amendment. That is the collective population of the 13 or 14 least populous states. Our current population is estimated at 308 million people.

The amendment process is an arduous obstacle course.

To my delight, I learned that Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed legislation on Aug. 8, 2011, to participate in an initiative which would effectively sideline the electoral vote without struggling through the amendment process.

This initiative, called the National Popular Vote, has been lobbying officials in the 50 states to agree to an interstate compact. Each state would agree to release its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the vote nationwide.

To succeed, this system requires the participation of states with a combined 270 electoral votes, the majority currently required for a candidate to win.

Gov. Brown’s signature added 55 electoral votes to the initiative, the largest collection of votes from America’s most populous state. This step raised the total from 77 to 132 votes.

You now have an historic opportunity to build on the foundation of our system, the Constitution. You can contribute to providing the United States with the direct vote for President. You can start the process now to consider participating in this initiative.

Pennsylvania would add 20 electoral votes. The popular vote would provide all of us with a direct measure of power in selecting our president. It would expand upon our freedoms and enliven the political process.

The framers of our Constitution did not create the electoral system in a vacuum. Historians cite a number of interrelated factors. Among them, communications were sparse. No e-mails, no Action News, newspapers were just starting to evolve. The average citizen had no realistic means of being informed of the qualifications of the candidates.

Because of our technological advances and the range of today’s news media, voters today can readily access the qualifications of the presidential candidates. For that matter, we often get too much information about them.

It is hardly news to you that the majority party has been accused of proposing this plan to obtain political advantage. Practically speaking, the popular vote will likely benefit Democrats because Democratic-leaning voters are clustered more in metropolitan areas, and Republicans tend to be scattered more in the suburbs and rural areas. For the record, I am a registered Democrat.

My prime concern is good government in order to better serve the public. The popular vote can only facilitate good government. I can think of reforms that Democratic Party leaders may not be anxious to embrace.

Again, I ask you to abandon this proposal for awarding electoral votes. Forgive the cliché, but that plan accomplishes nothing more than rearranging the deck chairs. Please focus your attention on ending the impact of the electoral college.

Thank you for your attention.

Bruce S. Ticker

 

We Need Your Help To Slay The Gerrymander

– by Lora Lavin, Representative Government Specialist, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania

The Jewish Social Policy Action Network, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Common Cause Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice need your help to launch to redistricting contest. The contest would set a fair baseline by which politician-drawn maps could be measured.

  • Left unchecked: politicians choose their voters instead of letting voters select their representatives.
  • Gerrymandering is the equivalent of rigging elections to get a predetermined outcome.
  • We believe some good old-fashioned competition can keep politicians honest.

The biggest political power-play of the decade is about to get underway in Pennsylvania.   It is, perhaps, the most  self-serving and least transparent process of state and local government.  It’s called redistricting.  The outcome will determine the shape of representative democracy in Pennsylvania for the next decade.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing congressional, legislative, and local government representatives’ district boundaries so that each district has approximately the same number of people.  The goal is to ensure communities have an equal voice in Congress, state legislatures and city and township councils.  

But the politicians don’t see it that way.  In Pennsylvania and most other states, district lines are drawn by the very lawmakers whose political careers will be affected by the changes.  For them, redistricting is an opportunity to consolidate political power and ensure their reelection prospects.  For example, Philadelphia’s 172nd House District was transformed during the previous redistricting in order to guarantee the reelection of a powerful legislator.  It was only after a political scandal that he was eventually defeated last year.

Modern technology makes this kind of extreme gerrymandering possible.  Using expensive and sophisticated software, politicians can select their voters block by block and even house by house.  The tools they use are “proprietary” meaning access is limited to those with the ability to pay lots of money.  But now, a Philadelphia based software firm, Azavea, in partnership with a political science professor at George Mason University in Virginia, has developed DistrictBuilder. This relatively inexpensive open-source redistricting tool can be used by ordinary citizens to draw district maps and bring elections back into the hands of the people.  

To see how Profs. Michael McDonald (George Mason Univ., Brooking Inst.) and Micah Altman (Harvard, Brookings Inst.) used DistrictBuilder to run Virginia’s redistricting contest, visit the Public Mapping Project website demopublicmapping.org.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, in partnership with JSPAN, Common Cause/PA and the PA League of Women Voters want to use DistrictBuilder to sponsor a redistricting competition and demonstrate that a non-partisan, open redistricting process based on objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional district maps in Pennsylvania.  The competition would be open to individuals.  The winners would be selected through an objective scoring system based on anti-gerrymandering criteria of compactness, competitiveness, representativeness, equality and integrity.

The three sponsoring organizations can contribute $6,000 toward prizes and incidental competition costs.  But to use the software we need to raise $35,000 before May 1.  Can you help?  To make a tax-deductible contribution click the button or contact treasurer@pjvoice.com. (Contributions directed to this project will be refunded if we do not meet our fundraising goal.)

For more information or become a co-sponsoring organizations, please contact Dan Loeb publisher@pjvoice.com.

More after the jump.
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