The Right to Vote

On October 2, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. blocked a controversial voter ID law in Pennsylvania. This law would have put stringent identification requirements for Pennsylvania residents at the polls.

Critics of the law argued that hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of residents would be disenfranchised by these new requirements, and that the law disproportionately affected African-Americans, Latinos, college students and groups that tend to support Democrats, with the exception of seniors. Supporters claim that the law is to prevent voter fraud. However, several sources (including the state of Pennsylvania) have reported that there is no evidence of voter impersonation or fraud in the state. Zero. In fact, one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.

If voter impersonation or any other forms of electoral fraud were a rampant problem for the state, by all means, implement a law to protect the vote. But when there are no known instances, what exactly is the purpose of this law?

According to Mike Turzai, Majority Floor Leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, it is to skew the presidential election in his party’s favor. In a now-viral video, Turzai famously stated “Voter ID law, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennylvania — done.” So the purpose of the law was not to “protect” the vote, but to manipulate the election by complicating or preventing the voting process for demographics that will likely vote for President Obama.

Elections exist to uphold the will of the people. If the people choose to reelect Barack Obama, that is something that should be honored. If the people choose to elect Mitt Romney, that is also something that should be honored.

The truth is that the law would have left many disenfranchised. Many people were confused about exactly what supporting documents had to be presented in order to obtain the voter ID. Some argue that even PennDOT employees were confused about the requirements and unwittingly misinformed those seeking the identification. Many senior citizens who lived in rural areas had neither a driver’s license nor a way to get to a PennDOT office in a larger city. If voting is a right that all Americans should have, why make it more difficult? In a nation where political apathy is relatively common, and voter turnout is low, does it really make sense to suppress the vote of those who do care?

For many, voting is not important. However, it is crucial to remember the struggles that many individuals and groups throughout history endured in order to secure this right. Individuals like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, among others, were beaten and tortured during the fight for women’s suffrage. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the 1964 “Freedom Summer” because of their efforts in voter education and registration for African-Americans. Lamar Smith was murdered in 1955 for organizing African-Americans to vote. Something that many of us take for granted today, is something that others have given their lives or freedom for. To try to suppress the vote, purge voter rolls or to place unreasonable hurdles in the way of voting, is an affront to the struggles and memories of those who paid such a high price for this right, and demonstrates a disregard for democracy and freedom, two key ideas that inspired the founding of this nation.

Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the citizens of a nation. The blockage of the Pennsylvania voter ID law is a (temporary) victory for democracy. Judge Simpson was instructed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to block the law if he found that voters would be disenfranchised. It is truly ironic that this law was introduced in order to “protect” the vote, and the court decision issued last week is doing exactly that, albeit in a very different manner. It is not protecting the vote from a mythical fraud, but from the danger of suppression. It is protecting the vote from processes that are reminiscent of poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses.

Although the judge ruled that the law would not take effect for the upcoming presidential election, he hinted that it may stand for future elections and scheduled a hearing for Dec. 13 to further explore this topic. The battle to protect the vote is ongoing, especially because other states have enacted, or attempted to enact similar laws. The blockage of the Pennsylvania law is perhaps only a short-term victory. It is hard to believe that a century after the women’s suffrage movement, and half a century after the civil rights movement, the right to vote is still something that we need to fight for.

Jeanette Reveles is a fourth-year film and media studies and women’s studies double major. She can be reached at revelesj@uci.edu.