State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Tag: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is leading the charge to reenact Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

By: Ebony Thomas

From slavery to Jim Crow, America has a long, dark history in the treatment of its African American citizenry.  Although Congress ratified changes to the United States Constitution three times to benefit African Americans (i.e., the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment provided African Americans equal protection, and the 15th Amendment gave African American men a right to vote), the franchise did not come easily for former slaves. Many states imposed barriers, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation, and other methods, to keep African Americans from accessing the ballot. It was not until 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, that the nation affirmed the promise of the Constitution to all Americans and effectively decimated States’ self-imposed barriers that kept African Americans from exercising their right to vote.  This legislation is known as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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Black Votes Matter: Pennsylvania’s Impressive History of Access to the Franchise

By: Ebony Thomas

Today, Pennsylvania’s voting laws are among the least restrictive of any state in granting its citizens access to the ballot. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that supports the voting rights of people with past felony convictions. Moreover, Pennsylvania has always been a leader in providing its citizens, especially its black citizens, access to its franchise.

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As early as the late 18th century, black freemen in Pennsylvania had the right to vote-well before the passage of the civil rights amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th). These gains were short-lived, as black freemen lost their suffrage rights in 1838 when the Pennsylvania constitution was amended. These freemen did not regain their right to the franchise until 1870 with the ratification of the United States Constitution’s 15th Amendment. During their disenfranchisement, blacks still fought for suffrage by petitioning and protesting for the Pennsylvania legislature to reinstate their rights. Yet their efforts fell on deaf ears. It was commonly held that apathy among black freemen and rising racial tensions between blacks and whites lost them their right to vote in Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, once blacks regained their right to vote in 1870, Pennsylvania did not impose any barriers on the franchise, in contradistinction to other states, which imposed barriers like the poll tax and literacy tests that ultimately led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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PA: The Constitutionality of Poll Watching in Someone Else’s County

By: Melissa Rivera

As the November 8 presidential election is swiftly approaching, concerns by some of election fraud are rampant. Especially in Philadelphia, some are concerned that this traditionally blue city will experience voter fraud. In an effort to curb this fear, in Philadelphia alone, at least 474 Republican and over 3,700 Democrat volunteer poll watchers’ names were submitted to election officials for vetting. This vetting process ensures that each volunteer is a registered voter from the county where he or she will poll watch. This county requirement is the subject of a recent lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

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The Battleground 2012: ID Required to Vote! No Scratch That, Not Until Next Year

by Jenna Poligo

On October 2, 2012 Judge Robert Simpson issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Pennsylvania’s photo identification requirement for the upcoming election.  Judge Simpson, however, required the state to continue its 5 million dollar voter education program.  In addition, the injunction does not bar the state from requiring poll workers to request identification prior to voters casting a vote.  The injunction merely prohibits the state from preventing registered voters from voting if they fail to produce identification when asked on Election Day.

The continuation of the voter education program combined with the ability to ask voters to produce identification prior to voting runs the risk of creating serious confusion among voters.  In addition, the continued message to voters that valid identification is necessary to vote may deter many would-be voters from participating in this election.   Continue reading

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