In a little-remembered moment during the 2010 campaign, Governor Tom Corbett told a gathering of suburban Republicans to “keep down” Philadelphia's Democratic voter turnout.
“We want to make sure that they don't get 50-percent [voter turnout],” he said, referring to Philadelphia Democrats. “Keep that down."
The item generated some news media attention at the time but has gone unmentioned during the current debate over the state's contentious new voter ID requirement, which could keep Democratic-leaning student, black, Latino, poor and elderly voters from the polls this November.
“It is extremely disturbing, but not surprising, that Tom Corbett is actively working to suppress the vote in Philadelphia,” State Democratic Chairman Jim Burn told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two years ago.
Pennsylvania Republicans drew loads of unwanted attention to the law when House Majority leader Mike Turzai boasted in June that the law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
The law is currently being challenged in Commonwealth Court, and the ACLU and other rights groups intend to play the video of Turzai's speech at trial.
“Any doubt,” according to the plaintiff's pretrial brief, that the law is not about “ensuring political advantage through the exclusion of qualified voters who are perceived supporters of the opposition” was “dispelled when the House Majority leader, Mike Turzai, candidly boasted to his colleagues.”
The U.S. Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into whether the law violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
The new law requires voters to show ID at the polls (see the valid forms of ID here). But the state, which originally said that 99 percent of voters had valid ID, has absolutely no idea how many people might be impacted.
Yesterday, City Paper reported that up to 43 percent of Philadelphians may not have valid ID. And Corbett earlier this week expressed confusion about the law's requirements when questioned by a reporter.
It's Good News/Bad News, a new feature the Naked City totally hopes to bring you regularly, in which we separate the chaff from the wheat in local media and offer ridicule or praise, as needed.
This week: BAD NEWS.
They say a picture's worth a thousand words — but maybe not when the picture has almost nothing at all to do with the words in question, and is possibly offensive to boot.
Like, for example, the above photo, featured on Page 8 of today's Daily News, in an article about the West Oak Lane murder of 43-year-old Eric Murray, a father and grandfather who had recently gotten out of prison and was working two jobs as a restaurant chef.
The Daily News ran no pictures of Murray or his family; it did, however, run this depiction of two women in their nightgowns, related to the story only by virtue of living near the incident and being, apparently, within range of a crime scene photographer.
The women, the caption notes, “declined to be identified.”
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The number of Pennsylvanians who might not have the photo identification necessary to vote this November has more than doubled: at least 1,636,168 registered voters, or 20 percent of Pennsylvania voters, may not have valid PennDOT-issued ID, according to new data obtained by City Paper. In Philadelphia, an enormous 437,237 people, or 43 percent of city voters, may not possess the valid PennDOT ID necessary to vote under the state's controversial new law.
“Those are the numbers we sent,” says Nick Winkler, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, when asked to confirm the data. “If you want to add them together, I think it's misleading.”
Schools PR effort includes GOP lobbyist funded by William Penn. Schools chair calls City Paper exposé a “fantasy.”
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook has discovered that the William Penn Foundation has spent more than $160,000 on a public-relations campaign for the School Reform Commission, which faces mounting criticism over a proposal developed by the Boston Consulting Group that would dismantle the central office, close more than 60 schools, and potentially put those that remain open under private management.
The Notebook reported that William Penn is paying the Bravo Group, controlled by Mitt Romney fundraiser and long-time state Republican leader Chris Bravacos. The money is being passed through the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
News of the Chamber of Commerce payment confirms and expands upon City Paper's July 5 cover story on president Jeremy Nowak's leadership of William Penn, where we reported that SRC Chairman Pedro “Ramos had asked the Chamber of Commerce to bankroll a lobbying campaign.”
No voter-fraud evidence, lots of abortion restrictions and other news from Tom Corbett's Pennsylvania.
“Oh no they didn't” is Daniel Denvir's weekly blog post on last week's state politics. Philadelphians know precious little about the legislature or governor, but pretending that Tom Corbett doesn't exist will not make him go away. Follow on Twitter @DanielDenvir.
Pennsylvania's new law requiring voters to present ID at the polls is, critics say, a solution in search of a problem — and one that could needlessly suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, disproportionately impacting students and the poor, black and elderly (i.e. Democrats).
And so right-wing state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe was thrilled by Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt's new report on voting irregularities, declaring that it “finally confirms what leading Democrat opponents of voter photo ID and those in the mainstream media have been denying all along. … Philadelphia is without question one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption.”
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On Wednesday, Philadelphia unceremoniously found itself in the middle of one of the nastier fights in the country right now: that over whether states should require photo ID at polling places and whether such laws, invariably pushed by Republicans, serve their purported purpose ― to stamp out “voter fraud” ― or a far less noble purpose of suppressing likely Democratic votes.
That question got stickier on Wednesday, when Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt (Philadelphia elections are overseen by three independently-elected City Commissioners; Schmidt is the sole Republican) released a report alleging hundreds of cases of voting “irregularities” and “fraud.” the response from Pennsylvania Republicans was quick and unsurprising:
The report “finally confirms what leading Democrat opponents of voter photo ID and those in the mainstream media have been denying all along,” wrote State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, Majority Chairman of the House State Government Committee, and a powerful conservative force in Harrisburg.
“Philadelphia is without question one of our nation’s most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud and corruption.” Schmidt's findings “add to the ever-growing collection of indisputable evidence proving that requiring the display of valid voter photo ID at the ballot box is essential to deterring election fraud,” he contintued, adding, rather ominously, that “we must develop additional solutions that go beyond voter photo ID to stamp out corrupting influences.”
Metcalfe's point was clear: he, and his Republican cohorts in the state legislature, had been right to pass this spring a new law, of which Metcalfe was the primary sponsor, requiring photo identification to vote in Pennsylvania elections ― and Schmidt's report was proof of that.
The only problem with that is that Schmidt's report — while containing legitimate and potentially serious findings of voting problems in Philadelphia — confirms virtually nothing in Metcalfe's triumphant statement. And while the report did point to troubling instances of what might be incompetence or corruption by poll workers, the report contains precious little relating to the only problem that voter ID requirements are supposed to solve ― that of voter impersonation ― citing a single case that had been documented prior to Schmidt's investigation.
As far as the justification for photo ID goes, the report contained nothing new at all — nor did the report or Schmidt himself claim any connection between its findings and a need for photo ID. But you wouldn't know that from the press coming out of Harrisburg's GOP, which has treated it like the ultimate justification of a need for voter ID the people have been waiting for.
But that it assuredly isn't.
The purported purpose of Pennsylvania's law and others like it around the country — efforts being coordinated by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which itself receives funding from the ultra-conservative and fabulously wealthy Koch Brothers — is to eliminate the possibility of "voter fraud" at the polls. But while there are several ways voter fraud might theoretically be perpetrated, the only one that would be stopped by requiring voter ID is voter impersonation, in which someone pretends to be someone they are not to vote. That's one reason that many critics of voter ID laws believe their real purpose is simply to suppress the votes of the elderly, poor, and minorities, who various studies have shown would be disproportionately affected by ID requirements.
(Nearly 760,000 voters in Pennsylvania,or roughly 9% of all registered voters, do not have PennDOT Ids, according to data released last Tuesday by the Pennsyvlania Department of State; in Philadelphia, a heavily Demcoratic city, roughly 18% of voters have no such ID)
One small difficulty supporters of Voter ID laws have had countering this claim is that voter fraud, especially of the sort that ID requirements would stop, hasn't been shown to, well, exist as a substantial problem.
Documented cases are extremely rare. The studies showing this are many, but particularly enlightening is the case of Indiana, whose legislature recently passed a requirement for voter ID that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court upheld the law in a 6-3 ruling ― but, as Justice John Paul Stevens notes in his majority opinion, found that the record had shown “no evidence of any such fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history.” A 3-year-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice from 2003 to 2005, spurred by (mostly Republican) intimations of rampant voter fraud on a national scale, ended in charges against only five people.
When they talk about voter fraud, proponents of Voter ID laws have to dig deep indeed for examples ― or they just talk about ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the group infamously accused in 2008 of voter fraud thanks to many examples of bogus voter registration forms submitted by ACORN workers who were being paid a commission.
The problem with this example? None of those bogus registrations was ever found to have translated into an actual vote.
The sort of voter fraud feared in these cases ― voter impersonation ― is supposedly the cause for voter ID laws, even though it is one of the least, perhaps the least, common forms of fraud ever documented.
Did City Commissioner Schmidt's report change that? Hardly.
Schmidt's report, titled “Voting Irregularities in Philadelphia County, 2012 Election,” began with the admittedly surprising revelation by him and fellow City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, a Democratic, of 779 cases in which the machine count at a Philadelphia polling place didn't match a count of the number of signatures entered in the poll logs, which voters sign when they vote. It's this number from which the assertion of “hundreds” of irregularities comes.
Schmidt and his team took a sample of the most problematic divisions in the city and attempted to discover what accounted for the discrepancy. In the process, Schmidt says, his team uncovered seven distinct “types of voting irregularities,” ranging from voters having voted in the wrong party's primary to the very serious charge, so central to the debate over Voter ID, of “voter impersonation.”
But anyone looking for proof that Philadelphia is, as Rep. Metcalfe put it, “one of our nation's most infested epicenters for rampant election fraud” won't find it here ― especially when you get down to numbers.
Schmidt's report does not, in fact, contain any breakdown of how many or what proportion of the nearly 800 “over-votes” examined might be attributed to which of the seven types of irregularities he mentions.
In an interview, Schmidt told City Paper that his report was “a qualitative and not a quantitative analysis,” and was focused on citing examples rather than presenting raw numbers; those numbers, he said, are not a representative sample and reporting them would have been irresponsible.
Responsible or not, it creates a problem for the reader: The report begins by citing "hundreds" of cases of irregularity or fraud but gives no numerical accounting of what caused them, even within in the specific divisions sampled and examined.
Some, Schmidt has acknowledged (without saying, even roughly, how many), were likely the result of multiple divisions being located at the same polling place. Others were the result of people voting in the wrong primary. Both errors could possibly constitute intentional fraud, but could also be attributed to simple human error. Of the 14 divisions in which machines recorded more votes than poll books recorded signatures ― the cases of “over-voting” ― how many were cases of votes getting innocently crossed between adjacent divisions? The report doesn't say, and neither, after several conversations, does Schmidt.
The breakdown gets even trickier when it comes to the four more sinister types of “irregularity” listed in the report ― voting by non-registered individuals, individuals voting more than once, voting by non-U.S. Citizens, and voter impersonation.
Examples — and they are examples, not statistics — of each range from few to none: Schmidt cites one case in the 2012 primary of someone voting twice; and one case, which had already been reported, of what appears to be voter impersonation. Then there are the non-U.S. Citizen votes: over a period of 10 years, seven such votes were cast.
His finding that poll officials have let people vote using “voter slips,” a kind of unofficial provisional ballot, without having the voter certified by the Board of Elections first, for example, is indeed surprising and suggests at least the possibility of corruption ― but turns out to account for a maximum of 150 “over-votes” out of nearly 800, only 23 of which were cast by non-registered voters.
That number, 23, is the single largest citation of improper voting in the entire report ― and a problem that should have been prevented by current voting rules, with or without photo ID requirements.
Of the various irregularities cited in the report — and of the "hundreds" of irregularities mentioned in its introduction — in fact, only one instance would have been affected by a photo ID requirement.
In an interview, Schmidt asserts that “one case is one case too many,” a refrain often used by proponents of voter ID requirements (Schmidt himself declined to take a position on voter ID in a recent interview, saying his job was simply to enforce existing laws; on the campaign trail he was vague on the issue, saying he opposed Pennsylvania's proposed voter ID law "as it was written" because it was an unfunded mandate).
As to the political context in which his report is being cited — like Metcalfe's issued statement — Schmidt says, "It would be appropriat to compare quotes like that with those who say there isn't 'any' voter fraud in Philadelphia," pointing specifically to a recent column by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Annette John Hall, who wrote: "There is no fraud."
City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, Schmidt's Democratic counterpart and chairwoman of the City Commissioners, sees things a little differently. At worst, she says, Schmidt's report found an instance of fraud preventable by a photo ID requirement representing 0.001 percent ― or about one millionth ― of the registered Philadelphia voting population at that time, she said in a press release. “Compare that to the 17 percent of Philadelphians being threatened by the voter ID law today.”
But so little of this debate, as Rep. Metcalfe, now intimating a need for “solutions that go beyond voter ID,” has made clear, is about numbers. It's about perception. And when it comes to perception ― say the perception, unsubstantiated by this report, that fraud runs rampant in Philadelphia or that requiring voter ID would stop it ― well, numbers just get in the way.
Ostensibly free-marketeers, Republicans are downright sore losers when they face defeat in the marketplace of ideas. Though very few conservatives pursue a career in reporting, many make their way to the punditocracy from where they work the refs, charging the mainstream media with “liberal bias” instead of rebutting them on the facts. Similarly, conservatives like Rick Santorum have for a long time derided universities as sites for left-wing “indoctrination.”
"It's no wonder President Obama wants every kid go to go college," Santorum said during the spring primary. "The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure there wasn't one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities, right?”
The bated-breath hysterics aren't new. Amidst the nationalist fervor that swept this country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as I reported nine years ago as an undergraduate, conservatives attacked any professor that “challenge[d] the traditional picture of America as a blemish-free beacon of freedom and progress,” creating websites like Campus Watch to denounce individual academics by name.
City Commissioner Al Schmidt released a report today claiming widespread voting "irregularities" and potential "voter fraud," in Philadelphia.
The report is almost sure to attract at least some attention from the national GOP, which has used the specter of voting fraud as a justification for a slew of voter ID laws around the country, even though very few instances of voter fraud have been uncovered nationally.
This spring, both Schmidt, a Republican, and City Commissioners Chairwoman Stephanie discussed findings of voting irregularities, holding a joint press conference to announce that some machines had reported more votes than were recorded in poll logs, and promising to conduct an investigation.
But today's report was produced by solely by Schmidt and his office; minutes before his press conference, Singer told this reporter that her office had just seen the report for the first time.
We'll have more on this soon, but Schmidt essentially reported having found 7 types of voting "irregularities" in Philadelphia's 2012 primary election. Of those, three or four -- notably, "voter impersonation," "individuals voting more than once," might, he said, constitute fraud.
It's worth noting here that Schmidt's investigation found very few instances of these alleged crimes. Schmidt reports one (1) case of voter impersonation, which dates back to 2007 and which has already been reported. The reports cites one (1) example of someone allegedly voting twice. The report also found 7 voters who voted in the last ten years and were subsequently rejected from the rolls because they were not U.S. citizens.
It's also worth noting that recently-passed voter ID laws wouldn't stop most of the problems (and the most numerous) identified in the report.
What's very hard to know from this report is whether these few instances represent a wider problem or whether, on the contrary, they confirm that any problems are small. It's hard to say: Schmidt's team examined fewer than 20 polling places, and only those that had shown irregularities already in the machine count versus the number of signatures in the poll log. That might suggest that these numbers show voting irregularities and potential fraud to be a very small issue. On the other hand, many of the issues Schmidt describes were unrelated to vote counts and were discovered by accident — meaning we might have no idea how widespread they are.
Less difficult to see are the political ramifications: Republicans will likely flock to this report as proof of a need for "tougher" voting laws, whether or not those laws address the problems at hand.
Democratic City Commission Chair Stephanie Singer, meanwhile, says Schmidt's report was "a report released in a hurry," and "a stunt to manipulate the press," and that Schmidt's only "finding" a voter impersonation case from 2007 only "gives me confidence there was no voter impersonation in 2008, 2009, 2010, or later."
"I'm disappointed … the Al Schmidt I met on the campaign trail is a man of great integrity and very deliberate … I don't know why he's put his name on this."
Schmidt says he's just doing his job. "I put my name on this report because I have terrific confidence that the findings are accurate."
Less than a year after it was defeated by residents, the controversial Callowhill Neighborhood Improvement District appears to be rearing its head again.
A week ago, the Callowhill Neighborhood Association announced a “60 Day Pilot Cleaning Program” would be going into effect in areas “where there was strong support for the 2011 Neighborhood Improvement District.” The cleaning is apparently being funded by a grant from outgoing 1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco, who introduced legislation that would have created the NID, and is being administered by the Center City District, whose Executive Director, Paul Levy, first proposed the NID and has been a strong supporter of it.
Word of the pilot program went out ten days ago to members of the Callowhill Neighbors Association listserv, among them vocal NID opponent Lee Quillen. Quillen says that Councilman Mark Squilla, whom she contacted immediately, was initially unaware of the pilot program. He also told her, she says, that he intends to re-introduce the NID legislation. (The Councilman is on vacation and was unavailable for comment and a message left for his legislative aide wasn't immediately returned).
CCD's Levy confirms that his agency is conducting an $80,000 “demonstration program to show what maintenance can do,” which is part of a two-part contract with the city's Commerce Department – which itself recently produced a brochure giving advice for starting Business and Neighborhood Improvement Districts in Philadelphia – that also includes ongoing work by CCD to acquire the SEPTA-owned portion of the Reading Viaduct. The $80,000 for cleaning consists of $60,000 for graffiti and litter removal and $20,000 for as-yet-unspecified street improvements.
It was last April that DiCicco first introduced a bill in City Council that would have created a “Neighborhood Improvement District” in the are between Vine and Callowhill, Broad and 10th Streets, that would have imposed an extra tax on residents, to be used for neighborhood improvements.
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