Republican supporters of the law remain convinced that it is needed to prevent fraud, although the state conceded before the court hearing that it knew of no cases of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
In an opinion piece in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Linda A. Kerns, co-chair of the southeastern-Pennsylvania chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association, wrote: “If requiring photo ID discriminates, then shouldn’t we abolish it and drive, buy guns, get on airplanes, and open bank accounts on the honor system? … Opponents claim that voter fraud does not exist, so the law is unnecessary. However, the legislature does not need to prove fraud in order to pass a law regulating elections. And proving voter impersonation can be tricky without requiring the very ID that opponents are trying to prevent.”
Hair, referring to what she calls confusing and “Byzantine” regulations, said, “It’s not really about whether you need an ID to vote; it’s about whether the politicians have manipulated the system in order to get an electoral advantage by creating such a difficult, onerous form of ID that people can’t comply.”
She sees a pattern, and not only in the number of states that have passed voter-ID bills since 2011. “Through the history of America, it’s always been a fight to expand access to the democratic process,” Hair said, starting with slavery and continuing up through the Voting Rights Act era and through the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which made it easier to register to vote.
“It took a few years for groups to start understanding it and using it,” she said, and for African-American registration to start to equal that of whites. “Now we’re in a backlash period,” said Hair, who was a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in a 1982 voting-rights case against the state of Georgia. “The folks who were used to being in control saw that this new electorate was rising up, and they’re trying to quash it.”
In Charlotte, Nutter, speaking with a small group of volunteers at an Obama for America campaign office last week, took a question about voter-suppression efforts across the country and their impact on the 2012 election. He recalled recently meeting Rosa Parks’ godson when her Congressional Gold Medal was loaned for an exhibition at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.
“Why are we now, all these years later, trying to erect new barriers, new obstacles, new challenges, to people wanting the right to vote?” he said. “That’s not the America that any of us have fought for.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to the Washington Post’s “She the People” blog, The Root, Fox News Charlotte and Creative Loafing, and has worked at the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.