Pennsylvania

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Editorials: Political parrying to blame for Pennsylvania reapportionment mess | Aaron Kaufer/The Times Leader

The recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision should teach us one thing about the reapportionment process: There is too much party control. Redistricting is supposed to be based on census data and population changes to help balance out uneven districts. Instead, it has become a political tool for the majority party to gain an upper hand over its opposition. Both parties are to blame for this mess. Democrats have done it in the past, and this year it’s the Republicans using reapportionment to their advantage. They sought to manipulate districts in order to strengthen Republicans’ re-election bids and challenge vulnerable Democrats. To do this, many Democratic municipalities got reapportioned out of these districts and placed into one heavily Democratic territory where Republicans already have conceded victory. This political chess match results in partisan districts, partisan politicians and partisan stalemate.

Full Article: Political parrying to blame for reapportionment mess COMMENTARY Aaron Kaufer | The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton PA - Local Commentary.

Editorials: Reject voter ID – Seniors, minorities, young people and the poor could lose their right to vote | Pittsburgh Post Gazette

State senators in Harrisburg will soon consider House Bill 934, which would require citizens to provide one of a very short list of government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. It sounds simple, but it is not. If it became law, this bill would create one of the most extreme restrictions on voting in the country — and would threaten to needlessly disenfranchise a massive number of Pennsylvania citizens. Many Americans don’t have driver’s licenses or the other photo IDs that would meet H.B. 934’s narrow standards. Survey research indicates that 11 percent of voting-age citizens don’t have the limited forms of government-issued photo ID that would be accepted under H.B. 934 — even though these taxpayers and voters could prove their identity with other types of documents.

Full Article: Reject voter ID.

Editorials: Holder’s Voting Rights Gamble – The Supreme Court’s voter ID showdown. | Rick Hasen/Slate

On the Friday before Christmas Day, the Department of Justice formally objected to a new South Carolina law requiring voters to produce an approved form of photo ID in order to vote. That move already has drawn cheers from the left and jeers from the right. The DoJ said South Carolina could not show that its new law would not have an adverse impact on racial minorities, who are less likely to have acceptable forms of identification.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the DoJ decision blocking the law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act: “It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.” The state’s attorney general vowed to fight the DoJ move in court, and thanks to an odd quirk in the law, the issue could get fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, which could well use it to strike down the Voting Rights Act provision as unconstitutional before the 2012 elections.

The current dispute has an eerie echo. More than 45 years ago, South Carolina also went to the Supreme Court to complain that Section 5 unconstitutionally intruded on its sovereignty. Under the 1965 Act, states with a history of racial discrimination like South Carolina could not make changes in its voting rules—from major changes like redistricting to changes as minor as moving a polling place across the street—without getting the permission of either the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court in Washington, D.C. The state had to show the law was not enacted with the purpose, or effect, of making minority voters worse off than they already were.

Full Article: The Obama Administration’s Risky Voter ID Move Threatens the Voting Rights Act.

Editorials: Voter ID: a solution looking for a problem | phillyBurbs.com

With all of the pressing business confronting the Legislature in Harrisburg, Republican lawmakers are somehow finding the time to advance legislation to require Pennsylvanians to show photo identification every time they vote.
Were there some demonstrated critical need to safeguard the voting process from fraud, we would applaud the Senate State Government Committee’s approval of an ID bill on Monday and a House version that passed in June.

But from all we can gather, voter ID “reform” is the classic solution in search of a problem and looks and smells suspiciously like a Republican effort to disenfranchise large numbers of voters who tend to vote for Democrats.
Bucks County state Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, chairman of the government committee, says he’s seen no proof that voter ID would deny the elderly, the disabled, the poor, minorities and young people the right to vote. In fact, on Monday, his committee lengthened the restrictive list of acceptable photo IDs that was part of the House bill. McIlhinney called the requirement a “security check.”

Full Article: Voter ID: a solution looking for a problem - phillyBurbs.com : Opinion.

National: Democrats Fret About Stricter Voter ID Laws | Roll Call

Congressional Democrats are warning that stricter voter identification laws sweeping through state legislatures could suppress voters in the 2012 elections. At least 34 states have introduced legislation, with varying degrees of restrictiveness, that would require voters to display identification at the polls before they are given a ballot. Some of these laws require voters to produce photo identification; some do not.

The battleground state of Wisconsin has a new law requiring photo IDs, while proposals at various legislative stages in the perennial presidential swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania are also giving Democrats heartburn. The more restrictive voting ID measure in Ohio is pending Senate floor consideration. A bill to introduce ID rules for the first time in Pennsylvania has passed the state House and is currently in a state Senate committee. Democratic National Committee spokesman Alec Gerlach said Ohio is “one of the states where this has been a big concern.” 

Full Article: Democrats Fret About Stricter Voter ID Laws : Roll Call Politics.

National: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states | The Washington Post

In the run-up to the 2012 elections, the federal government is ordering that 248 counties and other political jurisdictions provide bilingual ballots to Hispanics and other minorities who speak little or no English. That number is down from a decade ago following the 2000 census, which covered 296 counties in 30 states. In all, more than 1 in 18 jurisdictions must now provide foreign-language assistance in pre-election publicity, voter registration, early voting and absentee applications as well as Election Day balloting.

The latest requirements, mandated under the Voting Rights Act, partly reflect second and third generations of racial and ethnic minorities who are now reporting higher levels of proficiency in English than their parents. Still, analysts cite a greater potential for resistance from localities that face tighter budgets, new laws requiring voter IDs at polls and increased anti-immigration sentiment.

Effective this week, Hispanics who don’t speak English proficiently will be entitled to Spanish-language election material in urban areas of political battleground states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and Utah, as well as the entire states of California, Florida and Texas. For the first time, people from India will get election material in their native language, in voting precincts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, due to their fast population growth.

Full Article: New census data trigger federal requirements for bilingual voting ballots in 25 states - The Washington Post.

National: Republicans Eye Electoral Vote Changes | Time Magazine

Republicans in Pennsylvania and Nebraska want to change the way their states award Electoral College votes, moves that could hinder President Barack Obama’s re-election chances.

Lawmakers in the Democratic-leaning battleground of Pennsylvania are weighing whether to give the presidential nominees one electoral vote for each congressional district they win, rather than giving all its votes to the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote, like Obama did in 2008. In GOP-tilting Nebraska, lawmakers want to go to a winner-take-all system four years after Obama won the 2nd Congressional District and its single electoral college vote.

It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency out of 538 up for grabs. Every vote matters in a close election and every sign points to a competitive 2012 race as an incumbent Democratic president who most people still personally like tries to win a second term in tough economic times.

Full Article: Republicans Eye Electoral Vote Changes - TIME.

Editorials: The Real Voter Fraud Scandal | US News and World Report

Well over a year before the 2012 presidential election, there’s a battle going on over next year’s ballots—how they’ll count and who will get to cast them. At stake is an attempt to distort the voters’ will by twisting the rule of law. Most recently, Pennsylvania has been the focus of this battle. Dominic Pileggi, the state Senate majority leader, wants to change the way the Keystone State distributes its electoral votes, divvying them up according to how each presidential candidate performed in each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the candidate who won the popular vote.

So while Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2008 netted him all 21 of its electoral votes, the Pileggi plan would have shaved that figure to 11 electors. (Nationwide, Obama won 242 congressional districts while John McCain got 193.) The change would be even sharper as Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is expected to have 12 of the state’s 18 seats drawn to favor the GOP. Obama could win a majority of the Keystone vote again but only score eight of the state’s 20 electors. Do we really want to bring gerrymandering into presidential elections?

Full Article: The Real Voter Fraud Scandal - US News and World Report.

Editorials: Pennsylvania, Nebraska Republicans want opposite electoral vote changes | Detroit News Online

Republicans in Pennsylvania and Nebraska want to change the way their states award Electoral College votes, moves that could hinder President Barack Obama’s re-election chances. Lawmakers in the Democratic-leaning battleground of Pennsylvania are weighing whether to give the presidential nominees one electoral vote for each congressional district they win, rather than giving all its votes to the candidate who wins the state’s popular vote, like Obama did in 2008. In GOP-tilting Nebraska, lawmakers want to go to a winner-take-all system four years after Obama won the 2nd Congressional District and its single electoral college vote.

It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency out of 538 up for grabs. Every vote matters in a close election and every sign points to a competitive 2012 race as an incumbent Democratic president who most people still personally like tries to win a second term in tough economic times.

“Any electoral vote is important in these elections,” said Michael Mezey, a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. “When you start dealing with large states, it can make a difference. And also you’re not just dealing with Pennsylvania; other states may follow suit.”

Full Article: The Detroit News Online.

Editorials: Pennsylvania Voter ID bill costly, not needed | York Daily Record

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill known as the “Voter Identification Bill” to change the current Election Code. Before it actually becomes law, this bill must be approved by the state Senate, then signed by the governor.

Legislators must consider that this bill could potentially interfere with the voting rights of minorities, students, poor and the elderly. This Voter ID Bill is not a solution to any problem. It does not protect against, nor prevent, any actual cases of fraud. Fraud surrounding voting includes: voter harassment or intimidation, throwing out proper votes, giving out false information about when or how to vote, stuffing ballot boxes, and tampering with election forms.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was enacted by the federal government in 2002 to make elections run smoother and to prevent cases of fraud by election officials and campaign workers. The voter does not normally commit fraud. The problems identified with elections are already resolved by Pennsylvania’s current Election Code and by HAVA. Enforce those laws and protect the constitutional rights of registered voters.

Full Article: Voter ID bill costly, not needed - The York Daily Record.

Editorials: Railroad Blues – redistricting season is upon us again | Jonathan Rodden and Jowei Chen/Boston Review

Redistricting season is upon us again. Politicians and interest groups are pouring over proposed and finalized maps, and pundits are trying to keep score. How many seats will the Democrats pick up in California? How many will they lose in Missouri?

More important than score-keeping, however, is whether the composition of the legislature reflects the partisanship of the electorate. Will a party that wins 50 percent of the votes get 50 percent of the seats? In most states the answer is no. Republicans can expect a sizable advantage, and not because of gerrymandering.

Full Article: Boston Review — Jonathan Rodden and Jowei Chen: State of the Nation.

Editorials: Vote suppression in the US revs up | Al Jazeera English

In the 1964 presidential elections, a young political operative named Bill guarded a largely African-American polling place in South Phoenix, Arizona like a bull mastiff. Bill was a legal whiz who knew the ins and outs of voting law and insisted that every obscure provision be applied, no matter what. He even made those who spoke accented English interpret parts of the constitution to prove that they understood it. The lines were long, people fought, got tired or had to go to work, and many of them left without voting. It was a notorious episode long remembered in Phoenix political circles.

It turned out that it was part of a Republican Party strategy known as “Operation Eagle Eye”, and “Bill” was future Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. He was confronted with his intimidation tactics in his confirmation hearings years later, and characterised his behaviour as simple arbitration of polling place disputes. In doing so, he set a standard for GOP dishonesty and obfuscation surrounding voting rights that continues to this day.

This week, in one of its greatest acts of elective chutzpah yet, Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania set forth a plan to split the state’s electoral votes for president proportionally by congressional district. This is not illegal, or even unprecedented. Two other states have this system. And some people have been arguing for years that the whole country should abolish the Electoral College altogether in order to avoid such undemocratic messes as the 2000 election. Many of them have settled on the idea of all states simultaneously adopting the system of alloting electoral votes proportionally instead of winner-take-all as a sort of compromise. But that’s not what’s happening here.

Full Article: Vote suppression in the US revs up - Opinion - Al Jazeera English.

Editorials: The Old Electoral College Switcheroo: The Devastating Consequences of Pennsylvania’s Proposal to Game the Electoral College | Joshua Spivak/Huffington Post

With a close 2012 presidential race approaching, Republican-dominated legislature is now looking to deliver a big blow to President Obama’s electoral strategy. The state is debating whether to switch its allocation of its Electoral College votes from the winner-take-all system used by nearly every other state to the congressional district-based system of dividing votes.

The result of such a switch could seriously damage Obama’s chances of reelection. He won 21 electoral votes in Pennsylvania in 2008. Under the district-based system, he would have only won 11. But the effect on 2012 is not the real problem with such a switch — instead it could cause a quadrennial havoc and serve as another body blow to any public confidence in the electoral system.

The Electoral College has already come under massive criticism following the 2000 presidential debacle, with numerous legislative attempts to revamp or junk the College. Whatever the merits of the complaints, one of the positives of the system is that most voters may view the Electoral College as a simple process — win a state, win its votes. However, the winner-take-all, also known as the “Unit Rule,” allocation method of the Electoral College is not mandatory. It is used by forty-eight states. But the other two, Nebraska and Maine, hand out two votes to the winner of the state, and give the rest of their votes (combined, they have nine) to the winner of each congressional district. And only once, in 2008 when Obama won one vote in Nebraska, have those two states split their vote.

Full Article: Joshua Spivak: The Old Electoral College Switcheroo: The Devastating Consequences of Pennsylvania's Proposal to Game the Electoral College.

National: Republicans rewriting state election laws in ways that could hurt Democrats | The Washington Post

Looking to capitalize on their historic gains last year, Republican lawmakers in several states are rewriting their election laws in ways that could make it more difficult for Democrats to win.

They have curbed early voting, rolled back voting rights for ex-felons and passed stricter voter ID laws. Taken together, the measures could have a significant and negative effect on President Obama’s reelection efforts if they keep young people and minorities away from the polls. As the primary season kicks into gear, Republican presidential hopefuls are hitting the road and meeting voters in Iowa , New Hampshire and other early primary states.

“It all hits at the groups that had higher turnout and higher registration in 2008,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, a civil rights lawyer who co-directs the Advancement Project, which has been tracking the new regulations.

Full Article: Republicans rewriting state election laws in ways that could hurt Democrat - The Washington Post.

Editorials: I don’t want to card my neighbors | Pittsburgh Post Gazette

If I need a cup of sugar, I just ask Marsha next door. She’ll even bring it into my kitchen if my hands are covered in flour. When we need an extra set of hands to move a heavy object, we know we can ask Joseph, who will help with a smile. If I need someone to listen, Janet lends me her ear.

What other relationship do my husband and I have with these and another 450 of my neighbors? I’m the election inspector at our polling place, and he is the judge of elections. Twice a year, five of your neighbors become public servants for the day.

… Poll workers serve for different reasons. Many, maybe the majority, are retired on limited incomes and want a little spending money. Some are students who want to earn a few extra dollars, but they also receive a valuable lesson in democracy. Others, like my husband and myself, don’t work for the money, but who couldn’t use a few more dollars these days? We want to serve the public and enjoy catching up with our neighbors and their families.

We also would like a little respect from Harrisburg. Under legislation which passed the state House, is pending in the Senate and is backed by the secretary of the commonwealth, we could be fined $300, jailed for one year or both if we allow someone to vote without a photo ID.

Full Article: I don't want to card my neighbors.