Process Stories: More Important Than the Media Thinks
There were a lot of sexy news stories this week in the Delaware Valley. Comcast announced its flashy new building, Bill Green was nominated to chair the School Reform Commission, Uncle Charlie returned to the Phils, and, perhaps sexiest of all, this guy entered our lives. But there were a few slightly more demure stories that, nonetheless, are incredibly important.
Today, the Commonwealth Court announced its decision in Applewhite v. Commonwealth, more commonly known as the Voter-ID case. The critical question in this case was whether the Voter ID law did enough to “ensure liberal access to compliant photo ID as provided in the Voter ID Law and did not infringe on the right to vote guaranteed by the Pennsylvania Constitution.” In a rigorous 103 page opinion, Judge McGinley said that the law did not ensure liberal access, and, thus, infringed on the fundamental right to vote.
This ruling is absolutely correct. The proponents of the Voter ID Law argued in public that the law was necessary to preserve the electorate’s faith in the integrity of elections. In private, they bragged about the political benefits. While there are limited instances of voter fraud these are more commonly found in absentee ballots, not in person voting. In fact, the law’s defenders stipulated to the fact that there was no evidence of in person voting fraud. The Voter ID Law was expected to disenfranchise thousands of minority and elderly voters.
Stories about the political process itself rarely dominate the headlines, but they are immensely important. Politicians don’t listen to all citizens – they listen to voters. Gerrymandering is one of the fundamental causes of the oft-lamented polarization of politics, concentrating Republicans and Democrats into oddly shaped homogenized districts. That makes primaries the only contestable elections, which in turn means that appeasing the base becomes more important to reelection than legislative accomplishment. Elected judges are beholden to campaign donors and are less-qualified than their unelected peers.
As a state, we need to focus more on the process if we want better outcomes. Today, we were lucky to get a sensible decision from the Commonwealth Court. It could have just as easily went the other way, had a less scrupulous judge drawn the case. Relying on the luck of the draw is no way to govern, Pennsylvania.
For the Law Geeks: