Guilty Until Proven Innocent of Voter Fraud

Colorlines columnist Brentin Mock asserts that in Pennsylvania, people of color are treated as if they are committing voter fraud without proof.

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In Pennsylvania, the fight surrounding voter-ID laws continues. NAACP president Ben Jealous descended upon the state to argue in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing on Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania this week. At the heart of the matter, writes Colorlines columnist Brentin Mock, is the idea that men and women of color are being treated as if they are perpetrating voter fraud, even if they aren't.

There was a lot of argument about what constituted "the fundamental right to vote" as guaranteed by Pennsylvania's constitution, and also how many people would be disenfranchised by the law. But at its root, this hearing was about burdens, and as Gang Starr once asked, "who was gonna take the weight?" There were many questions about which Pennsylvanians would have to carry the extraneous burdens of this law in order to vote, and who would not. There was also debate about whether the burden was on the state or on voters to prove that those extraneous burdens even existed. When supreme court justices asked why they should overturn the lower court ruling — a huge ask — the plaintiff's lawyer David Gersch said that "the fact people are burdened by this law triggers" their intervention.

And yet while the photo voter ID law was created on the premise that it would protect against voter fraud or unearth it, the state legislators never had the burden of having to prove that fraud actually exists — evidence of it was never entered in the court record. Gov. Corbett's lawyer Alfred Putnam Jr. said yesterday that the Commonwealth didn't need to prove it (Also read great analysis by Pittsburgh City Paper's Chris Potter). Yet voters now have the burden — voters of color disproportionately — of complying with the law. It's as if voters are guilty of the potential of fraud until proven innocent by an ID card.

Read Brentin Mock's entire piece at Colorlines.

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