The Corbett administration must subscribe to the theory that a strong offense is the best defense. Its response to a request from the U.S. Justice Department for information concerning Pennsylvania’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act starts out with sarcasm and goes on to accuse its Civil Rights Division of engaging in a political stunt. This from a Republican administration that oversaw the passage of a new voter identification law that could keep an untold number of citizens from exercising their right to cast ballots in the upcoming presidential election. By the Corbett administration’s various tellings, the voter ID law will negatively impact a scant 1 percent of the state’s eligible voters (says the governor’s office) and nearly 759,000 registered voters lack appropriate ID from the state Department of Transportation (says the secretary of the commonwealth who oversees the election department). That discrepancy alone justifies the interest of the Civil Rights Division, which sought, among other items, records supporting those assertions, along with the complete state voter registry and PennDOT’s lists of licensed drivers and those holding PennDOT-issued non-driver ID cards.
Yet the state’s response, signed by general counsel James D. Schultz, boils down to this: Because Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently upheld the state’s voter ID law and a similar statute in Indiana withstood a legal challenge, there’s no reason for federal officials to be looking into any potential impact of a law that changed how registered voters will gain access to the polls. That argument is a slap in the face of history. The 1965 landmark Voting Rights Act was necessary precisely because of laws enacted by Southern states to impose literacy tests and other measures that kept blacks and poor whites from casting ballots.
The 2012 version of voter suppression is just as insidious, despite the cloaked language used by proponents — and in Mr. Schultz’s letter — that says voter ID laws “simply” are “designed to ensure the integrity of the voting process.” After its blustering opposition, the letter goes on to say the state will provide only the same data it gave to the plaintiffs who challenged the legality of the ID law and who are appealing Commonwealth Court’s decision.