Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Washington office of the Brennan Center for Justice.
On Wednesday, a Pennsylvania judge upheld a controversial voter ID law that critics say could disqualify hundreds of thousands of voters. Republican lawmakers have openly admitted the law was designed to impact the result of the November election. In June, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai listed off a number of legislative accomplishments. "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done," Turzai said. Meanwhile, Florida, New Mexico and other states are being accused of purging voters ahead of the election. "Whenever states determine that they want to purge their rolls or clean up their rolls, it takes time. It has to be done efficiently and effectively. And waiting to do so so very close up to an election always raises concerns about why a state is doing it so close to an election," says Nicole Austin-Hillery of the Brennan Center for Justice. "We’re always concerned about errors and the fact that innocent people, individuals who are indeed eligible registered voters, we’re always worried about whether those people may be erroneously kicked off the rolls." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our next segment. It’s the issue of voting rights in Pennsylvania. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, with the presidential election less than three months away, voting rights issues are heating up in numerous battleground states. On Wednesday, a Pennsylvania judge upheld a controversial voter ID law that critics say could disqualify hundreds of thousands of voters. The measure requires voters to produce will benefit Republicans this November. The measure requires voters to produce photo ID before they can cast ballots. Opponents of the law had sought to delay its implementation until after the November 6 elections. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups say they will appeal to the state Supreme Court. But Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, praised the judge’s decision, saying it confirmed the integrity of each and every valid vote. Earlier this year, Turzai predicted the voter ID law would help Mitt Romney win the state.
STATE REP. MIKE TURZAI: Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In his ruling, presiding Judge Robert Simpson wrote that the law, quote, "does not expressly disenfranchise or burden any qualified elector or group of electors. The statute simply gives poll workers another tool to verify that the person voting is who they claim to be."
But critics of the law say it will suppress voter turnout among people of color, the poor and elderly, who may lack the proper ID and find it harder to obtain one. A new analysis by News 21 shows that the rate of voter fraud is infinitesimal and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day is virtually nonexistent.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on voting rights, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Washington office of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Nicole Austin-Hillery, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this ruling in Pennsylvania.
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Amy, thank you so much for having me on.
This ruling is quite significant, because here we have a court that has said that despite the fact that the state government stipulated that they have no evidence of in-person voter fraud ever having occurred in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, this court still says that it believes that it is OK for the state to implement a measure that is meant to protect the state against voter fraud, that the state has already admitted is simply nonexistent. And what we think this does is it sends a terrible message. It basically ensures that many voters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will have a very difficult, if not to impossible, time voting when we approach the November election this year.
There are numerous people in Pennsylvania—and the Brennan Center did a report on this that was just released a few weeks ago about the difficulty of obtaining voter identification. There are hundreds of thousands of individuals in Pennsylvania, and the state has admitted to this, that simply don’t have the proper ID that, under the state’s new laws, are required in order to cast a vote in November. Even though the state has implemented measures that they say will ensure that every citizen, if they don’t have the requisite ID, can get it, we know that when changes are made so close to an election, when an entirely new system is put in place, that it is going to be difficult for each and every voter to be given that proper ID. And for many of those individuals who don’t get it who run into problems, they’re simply going to have a difficult time casting their ballot come November.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nicole Austin-Hillery, the situation in Ohio, as well, could you talk about latest developments there, one of 13 states that have either tried to restrict or, in one way or other, put in new restrictions on voting?
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Certainly. And as you’ve already said, there has been a history of a lot of different things going on in Ohio, from ballot initiatives to attempts by the state legislature to pass laws that have the effect of prohibiting certain voters or making it harder for certain voters to cast their vote.
Most recently, this week, the secretary of state, Secretary Husted, in Ohio had made a determination regarding early voting hours. What he had determined was that there would be varying hours for early voting across the state. When you take a close look at the jurisdictions in Ohio, what he was basically determining was that jurisdictions that tended to have majority white populations and where the majority of voters were registered Republican, their hours were going to be extended. They were going to have, rather, the longest opportunity for—to cast their early votes. However, when you look at jurisdictions that had a large minority population and where there was a large percentage of individuals who were registered Democrats, he had applied a different rule, and the early voting hours in those jurisdictions were going to be shorter. Well, of course, there was an outcry from many people, citizens in Ohio, as well as progressive organizations that simply want to ensure that there’s uniformity in terms of early voting hours. As a result, Mr. Husted yesterday made the determination that there would be uniformity now in terms of the early voting hours and that it would be the same in every jurisdiction in Ohio.
Unfortunately, even in making that decision to ensure uniformity, what he did not do is ensure that there would be early voting hours on the weekends. And what many studies have shown, what some of the work the Brennan Center has done has shown, is that minority populations often take advantage of early voting hours on weekends. For instance, a lot of the African-American congregations throughout the country have actually had organized efforts to ensure that their congregants get to the polls to take advantage of early voting hours, particularly on Sunday after church. So, in effect, if Ohio is no longer offering that option of voting on Sunday, for instance, that means that efforts like that will be curtailed—
AMY GOODMAN: Nicole—
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: —and that—yes, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: Nicole, I wanted to play a recent comment by the Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted about the controversy over the voting hours. He was on the right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham’s radio show show last week.
SECRETARY OF STATE JON HUSTED: I don’t think the bar is too high there for anybody who really cares about the future of our country and wants to have their voice heard by voting. We try to make it easy, but we can’t—you know, I say we’re not 7-Eleven. We can’t stay open 24-seven and let anybody vote by any rule that they want to.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Ohio’s secretary of state. Nicole Austin-Hillery?
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Amy, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your question.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what he said: we’re not, you know, 7-Eleven here, staying open 24 hours a day.
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: You know, Amy, no one is asking that the secretary of state ensure that their polls stay open throughout the night and all day. What organizations, like ours, that want to ensure democracy for everyone in this country, organizations that want to ensure that all Americans are not prohibited or inhibited from casting their ballots, what we want is for states to ensure that people have fair and equal opportunity to get access to the ballot box. Again, what we’ve seen in this country is that, with the creation of early voting, many Americans who may have had difficulty casting their votes on the designated Tuesday have more of an opportunity to get to the polls. We know that there are many people who have difficulties on the designated Tuesday of an election day. There are poor and working people who simply can’t take off work, people who can’t afford to stand in long lines for hours. We saw, in the last presidential election, there were many jurisdictions where people were standing in line for hours. People—lines were wrapped around buildings. Many people were able to stand in those lines, but there were many people who weren’t, individuals who simply did not have that kind of flexibility with respect to jobs, family care and other responsibilities. So we know that early vote—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to—
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: —early voting—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, if I can—
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —about another important swing state, Florida. Earlier this year, the Justice Department ordered Florida to end a controversial voter purge that has primarily targeted Latino, Democratic and independent-minded voters. Now Florida’s voter purge will move ahead, after the federal government finalized an agreement to allow the state to access records that could detect non-citizens on the voting rolls. I want to turn to a clip of Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida on Fox News defending the voter purge.
GOV. RICK SCOTT: I want fair, honest elections. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t.
GREGG JARRETT: Holder says you’re suppressing votes.
GOV. RICK SCOTT: No. I mean, I want people to vote, register to vote, but U.S. citizens.
GREGG JARRETT: Yeah, but he says you’re suppressing Democrat votes.
GOV. RICK SCOTT: No, I want everybody to vote that wants to vote, but only U.S. citizens.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Nicole Austin-Hillery, your response?
NICOLE AUSTIN-HILLERY: Sure. We, too, at the Brennan Center, want to ensure that the people who cast ballots are indeed people who under our laws are to—are the people who should be casting ballots—citizens, people who are registered properly. That’s what we all want. We want this to be a fair system.
The problem in Florida is this. Florida has waited until very, very close to the election, number one, to decide that they wanted to do a purge of their voting rolls. Under the National Voter Registration Act, jurisdictions are supposed to make changes such as that no sooner than 90 days before an election. Florida decided to make these changes within 90 days of their primary. So that was a concern, that there simply wasn’t enough time to do an accurate review of these rolls. We think that if Florida was truly concerned about cleaning up their rolls, this would have been activity that they would have undertaken far sooner, during a time when they would have actually had time to go through the rolls to deal with any issues and errors, and it wouldn’t have come up at a time when it would have caused a lot of confusion and intimidation for voters. That’s number one.
Number two, the Department of Homeland Security has already agreed to provide the state of Florida with a database that Florida has requested that would enable them to verify the rolls of citizens and to ensure that they are removing the people who aren’t citizens from their rolls. Right now, Florida and the Department of Homeland Security are working to reach a memorandum of agreement or a memorandum of understanding, if you will, that would enable Florida to use that database. Those negotiations are still underway. So we will see what happens, if that will happen in a timely manner.
But the main point is that whenever states determine that they want to purge their rolls or clean up their rolls, it takes time. It has to be done efficiently and effectively. And waiting to do so so very close to an election always raises concerns about why a state is doing it so close to an election. And we’re always concerned about errors and the fact that innocent people, individuals who are indeed eligible registered voters, we’re always worried about whether those people may be erroneously kicked off the rolls.
AMY GOODMAN: Nicole Austin-Hillery, I want to thank you so much for being with us, director and counsel of the Washington office of the Brennan Center for Justice. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
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