Antagonized but Not Disenfranchised

Colorlines voting-rights columnist Brentin Mock reports from Pennsylvania, where voter-ID laws are under fire and lawyers have argued the meaning of "disenfranchisement."

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In Pennsylvania, lawyers, journalists and people who simply want to exercise their right to vote on Nov. 6 are waiting for the verdict on the state's controversial voter-ID law. On Tuesday, Judge Robert Simpson must deliver his ruling determining whether the state's law has disenfranchised voters. Some told Colorlines voting-rights columnist Brentin Mock that they're not disenfranchised; they're "frustrated." 

In July, Simpson denied civil rights attorneys an injunction on the law. The higher court found flaws in that ruling, saying that he made a "predictive judgement" that placed faith in what the state said it will do to help people get ID. Simpson was ordered to make a new ruling through examination of the law as currently applied as opposed to what the state prophesied. The Supreme Court also gave Simpson direct instructions to grant an injunction if the law's provision offering free ID to registered voters nonetheless leads to disenfranchisement -- which those justices have already found to be the case.

We reported a day after the Supreme Court ruling that the court's instructions to Simpson were subject to Simpson's interpretation. University of Pittsburgh law professor Jessie Allen, who's been following the case, suggested at the time that Simpson might find a way around the Supreme Court's orders: "The trial judge is the primary finder of facts and he has to examine whether [implementation of the law] meets the standard the law sets."

Allen also predicted that Pennsylvania would modify the law to meet Simpson's favor, which is exactly what happened. The day before this week's hearing started, Pennsylvania loosened up its rules on how to obtain a free voter ID, though many of its employees didn't get the memo until the morning of the first day of the hearing, which started Tuesday. As a result, lawyers from both sides spent much of the two days' of hearings scrambling to find witnesses and documents that could respond to rules that had literally just been implemented.

What no one predicted was the state would also attempt to modify the definition of disenfranchisement. The state's attorney Alfred Putnam said at the close of Tuesday's session, "The Supreme Court did not say that you get disenfranchised just because you are not able to demonstrate who you are to vote. That's not disenfranchisement."

Read Brentin Mock's entire piece at Colorlines

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