In May 2016, state officials in Pennsylvania announced plans to flag voters whose names did not match county elections officials’ lists to delete their registration. In November 2016, state officials pushed through a new “robo-poll” bill, which specifically sought to minimize inconveniences for voters. And in a 2017 order, a federal court ruled that the state law was “virtually impossible to comply with” and did not protect voters’ rights.
And last week, the state Senate passed another bill aimed at another aspect of the state’s voter registration roll – this time, a bill forcing “names appearing on the voter rolls” to be verified, making it difficult for “certain individuals, chiefly non-citizens” to vote.
According to an analysis by the Center for Individual Rights, the bill, authored by Republican state Sen. Patrick O’Neill, would add as many as three million names and addresses to the state’s rolls and create an entirely new class of felons and felons in pre-trial detention – those who have spent six months in jail, are subject to local bond schedules or have already been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor – who have their voting rights permanently revoked. O’Neill’s office would compile the list of individuals, then identify those who could potentially participate in the election. State elections officials would turn this data over to the Department of Homeland Security, which could authorize the governor to intervene. The bill, which Republicans say will protect against the election of “bad actors,” gained final legislative approval, 39 to 1, on December 26. The commonwealth is not required to verify records and, barring high-profile election fraud, will not be compelled to do so. So, who will have access to this information? According to the Washington Post, the state’s Republican majority on the state Senate and House of Representatives redistricting committees will determine who is on the state’s voting rolls.
What’s becoming clear is that this GOP campaign to dramatically alter voting rights in Pennsylvania seems, at its root, disingenuous, political and likely unconstitutional. While a court decision last month validated the state’s ability to force the federal government to verify the identity of non-citizens voting, and while several states have already passed voter ID laws that, from the standpoint of voting rights advocates, fail to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), the Democrats have failed to score any significant wins over the last four years.
I’ve said it before: as long as we have Republicans who have consistently made the argument that voter fraud is rampant and results in our winnable elections, and as long as Republicans believe that this problem is a credible threat to democracy, then I don’t think we will see any progress on, or resolution of, this issue, at least not anytime soon.
Much of the Democratic Party’s fight on this front, and, in particular, its argument for federal legislation that would further suppress participation in our elections, is predicated on attacks against a debunked theory about widespread voter fraud that is used to justify ridiculous voter identification laws that disenfranchise millions of people.
The record has shown that Republican legislators’ perversion of democracy has made more voters nervous than it has intimidated any of us – but this just underscores the need for Democrats to fight back.