Time for DoJ to step up and challenge voter suppression laws in states not covered by Voting Rights Act Section 5...
By Brad Friedman on 4/23/2012, 3:29pm PT  

[NOTE: I interviewed 90-year old Joyce Block from Pennsylvania, the woman discussed in the story below, today (Wed, 4/25) on my KPFK/Pacific Radio show, and she offered a bit of a "good news" update on her story. That interview is now posted here. - BF]

And now it's the voters in Pennsylvania who are beginning to lose their right to vote under new Republican voter suppression laws. The latest story of a citizen having their rights robbed by Big Government GOP disenfranchisement laws is that of Joyce Block, a 90-year old grandmother from Doylestown who has voted for 70 years without a problem --- until now.

We've been reporting for some time on legal voters who are being disenfranchised by Republican-passed polling place Photo ID restrictions around the country. For example, in Indiana there were the 80- and 90-year old nuns who were turned away from the polls in 2008 after that state's first-in-the-nation Photo ID restriction had taken away the rights they'd freely and legally exercised for decades at their own monastery. (They were turned away that year by the poll worker, their fellow sister, who had been forced to follow the new voter suppression law.)

Of course, that same law in the Hoosier State didn't prevent their top election official, charged with overseeing the law, Republican Sec. of State Charlie White, from committing three voter fraud felonies himself. He was found guilty in February of this year and forced to leave office. But these laws aren't actually meant to stop voter fraud. Even proponents of such laws are unable to cite any cases of polling place impersonation --- the only type of voter fraud that could possible be deterred by such laws --- which might have been prevented in their state by polling place Photo ID restrictions. These laws are meant solely to disenfranchise perfectly legal, usually Democratic-leaning voters who disproportionately lack the type of ID now needed to vote in states where these laws have been approved.

We told you about 87-year old Ruthelle Frank, an elected town official in Wisconsin who would have to come up with more than $200 for her "free" ID to vote under the GOP's new law there. And then there was 77-year old Bettye Jones for whom it would be strictly impossible to vote at all under WI's law which was, thankfully, recently found to be in violation of the state Constitution by two separate judges in two separate lawsuits in the Badger State.

Down in Tennessee, we told you about 96-year old Dorothy Cooper who was denied a "free" Photo ID, as now needed to vote there, even though she had her birth certificate to prove she was who she said she was. And we also highlighted 93-year old Thelma Mitchell, who used to clean the Governor's office in the statehouse, but was told that her ID was no longer good enough to cast a vote in the Volunteer State.

We could, of course, go on and on and on with such examples, even as we could detail the many high-profile Republicans who have committed voter fraud --- folks like Mitt Romney and Ann Coulter and many others, to name just a few --- who would not have been prevented from committing their crimes even under Photo ID restrictions, because that's not how voter fraud generally occurs and not the sort of voters these laws are meant to disenfranchise. It is, however, a swell way to keep hundreds of thousands, even millions, of perfectly legal --- largely elderly, minority and student (read: Democratic leaning) --- voters from being able to cast their legal vote.

And now, in Pennsylvania, the most recent state where Republicans have approved a polling place Photo ID restriction law --- and where the state's Republican Governor Tom Corbett blatantly lied about it to the media --- we see the 90-year old grandmother-in-law of a local Borough Council president who looks as if she'll be forced to break her perfect 70-year voting record this November, as she too is unable to receive the supposedly "free" ID soon required to vote in the Keystone State...

Bill Reed of the Philadelphia Inquirer today relates the pathetic tale, just the latest example of so many similar, as it was heard at last week's Board of Commissioners meeting in Bucks County...

Det Ansinn, the Borough Council president in Doylestown, told of taking his wife's 91-year-old grandmother to a PennDot office, looking for a photo ID so she could keep her 70-year voting record intact.

Joyce Block of Doylestown Township is such a dedicated voter that Ansinn took her from the hospital in a wheelchair to vote in 2010 because she couldn't get an absentee ballot.

She has an old voter registration card with her married name, but she has never had a driver's license.

Block had all the documents on the Department of State checklist - birth certificate and Social Security card, both with her maiden name; her marriage certificate; deed to her house; Peco bills; plus her IRS refund check.

That wasn't enough to satisfy PennDot, Ansinn said.

Her Hebrew marriage license was rejected because the PennDot worker couldn't read Hebrew.

And the deed and Peco bill were rejected because they had her married name, not her maiden name.

The state worker suggested she take legal action to switch the ownership of her home to her maiden name, which she hasn't used in 60 years. Then, maybe, she will be allowed to vote in the November election.

"This is absurd," Block's daughter, Randee Block, said at the meeting.

"Absurd"? Yes. But, as far as the Republicans who are passing these laws are concerned, it's more like "Mission Accomplished".

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of the state jurisdictions with a history of discrimination covered by Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act. If so, it's likely the U.S. Dept. of Justice would be challenging the law as discriminatory, as they have so far done successfully in states that are covered, such as South Carolina and Texas.

The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernest Canning, however, has persuasively argued that the DoJ can and should challenge such laws under Section 2 of that same act. The burden is more difficult under that part of the law, in that the DoJ is required to prove discrimination themselves under Section 2, rather than the state having to prove their laws do not discriminate under Section 5.

Nonetheless, if Barack Obama and Eric Holder actually give a damn about all legal citizens being able to exercise their franchise this year, as Holder recently claimed, they ought to get busy, and damned fast, in filing suit in states like Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Kansas and the several others where such laws have passed, but are not covered by Section 5.

If they truly give a damn about fight for the Constitutional voting rights that the GOP is blatantly stripping from from citizens this year in the most grotesque assault on such rights seen in this country since the era of Jim Crow in the South, now is the time to prove it. The clock is ticking.

Pennsylvania voters go to the polls tomorrow for the Presidential Primary. The new disenfranchisement law does not kick in, in full, until this November when PA, once again, will prove to be a key state for whichever candidate will be named as the next President of the United States.

[Hat-tip to election integrity advocate Barbara Glassman of Bucks County's Save Our Vote]

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CORRECTION & UPDATE, 4/25/12: During my interview today with Joyce Block, I learned she's only 90, not 91, as I had originally reported above, as based on the article from the Philadelphia Inquirer which gave her as 91. I've corrected the story above to reflect her actual age --- not that she acts it, however, as you'll hear in my KPFK interview with her, as now posted here.

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