I haven’t been lobbying for a long time- four years…well, 11, including my activist, pre-lobbyist days- but I haven’t seen a scene quite like the one on the PA House floor last night. Chaos reigned on the House floor as members gave catcalls, shouted each other down, attempted parliamentary maneuvers to stop the bill, and warred with the Speaker of the House. The primary sponsor of the bill refused to answer questions about his own bill at least seven times. The ACLU of PA is non-partisan- fiercely non-partisan, as our legal director says- but we’ll give credit where credit is due. The House Democrats fought hard against the voter suppression scheme in House Bill 934. The Protect Our Vote coalition didn’t prevail, as the House passed the bill, 108-88. But we made a lot of progress. I tweeted throughout the night and a little bit this morning but want to collect some of those thoughts here.
First, six years after the last vote on voter ID, which was vetoed by then-Governor Rendell, more legislators get it. In 2005, the voter ID bill passed the state House with 135 yes votes, including 31 Democrats. In 2011, they had just 108 yes votes- seven votes shy of defeat- and zero Democrats voted yes.
I get the need for the parliamentary move to end debate on a bill. Without it, the minority can essentially filibuster a bill by talking and talking and talking until everyone is tired of it. But on this occasion, the move by the House Republicans to call to “the previous question” looked especially horrendous, for two reasons. One, many of us believe that, intended or not, the voter ID initiative is a policy that disenfranchises U.S. citizens, so it is truly ironic that the majority would suppress debate on a bill that could suppress voters.
Two, and perhaps worst of all for the House GOP, after the debate was cut off and the final vote was taken, multiple members stood up to submit their comments for the record because they did not have an opportunity to present those comments verbally. Those submitting comments included Rep. Margo Davidson, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, Rep. Ron Waters, Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, and Rep. Joe Preston.
What do these members all have in common? They are all members of the Legislative Black Caucus. With America’s dark and tragic history of suppression of the black vote lingering in the background, it is particularly appalling that these members did not have an opportunity to speak.
As House Speaker Sam Smith adjourned the chamber for the night around 10:45pm, Rep. Preston was heard yelling, “This is worse than Mississippi!”
We have an uphill climb in defeating this bill. But the supporters didn’t steamroll in the House, as expected. I told our allies at the start that we need to make this vote as uncomfortable as possible and see where the chips fall. We have barely begun to fight.
(Be sure to check out the interview I did immediately after the House vote on The Rick Smith Show. Rick gets it.)