NOW with Alex Wagner | August 27, 2012
>>> today, the obama administration is in court asking a panel of judges to reject south carolina 's photo i.d. law. the justice department argues that it will likely disenfranchise minority voters by significant numbers. in recent years, republican governors in ten states have enacted laws requiring voters to show i.d. before casting their votes. republicans argue they're just trying to root out voter fraud but the idea that ineligible voters are swinging elections is pure fantasy. according to nyu's brendan center for justice, americans are more likely to get struck by lightning than to encounter voter fraud . so what exactly is the purpose of voter i.d. laws? more than anything, these laws help keep certain sectors of the electorate from exercising their constitutional right to vote, and in turn, this helps republicans win elections. the republican leader of the pennsylvania house said as much earlier this summer.
>> voter i.d. which is going to allow governor romney to win the state of pennsylvania , done.
>> voter i.d. isn't the only tool republicans are using. in the swing states of florida and ohio , republicans are taking aim at early voting hours, which helped president obama win in 2008 . according to one ohio republican official, quote, i guess i really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban, read african-american, voter turnout machine. ironic? perhaps. these days contorting, altering, curtailing and otherwise complicating the voting process has very nearly become a republican party platform. in fact, at last week's gop platform committee meeting, kansas secretary of state drafted an amendment supporting voter i.d. laws. it reportedly made it on to the gop platform. we reached out to the rnc for confirmation but have not received a response. joining us now is former democratic congressman from pennsylvania , joe sestak , and here in new york, "the nation's" ari berman. congressman, i would like to go to you first on this, knowing well as you do the keystone state . what sort of impact do you foresee these laws having in critical swing states ?
>> we're not going to be able to judge that, because already, there are people who feel they cannot come out to vote and we won't know what the reason is. even today, pennsylvania just announced another change of a dozen changes since the law was signed just five months ago. i, for example, as a military guy, under the first way the law was passed, couldn't even use my military i.d. card because it had the word indefinite under the date. i think the bigger issue here, alex, is that in the military, every single division on every shift for a year before an election has an officer who goes around to every member of each of the divisions and says here's your absencee ballot, how about filling it out, to where we understand the value of protecting the right to vote. unfortunately here in this great commonwealth, we become a keystone kop rather than the keystone state , to where we want to put the citizen above party. we have a governor, for example, who for eight years as attorney general could not find one case of voter fraud to prosecute and yet instead of focusing on jobs, has decided that his priority had to be to disenfranchise voters. i would be for this end to have a voter i.d. card if you took the time and not have a means that prostitutes the process and gives a number of years to make sure that it can be implemented well. but that's not the case, nor do we have any cases of any voter i.d. that the state of commonwealth could bring up in court last month to try to present to the commonwealth court judge.
>> ari, you have done great, extensive reporting on this subject, in particular the congressman using very strong language there, prostituting the state. we know this is -- this is a problem we've acknowledged on this channel, on this air before, the president's team is taking it very seriously. they are fighting measures that are voter i.d. measures that are happening in pennsylvania , wisconsin, florida and ohio . they know that this is going to matter. could it turn the election?
>> it could. you look, this has been one of the most significant changes since the 2010 election is the wholesale change in voting laws across the country. more than a dozen states have changed their voting laws to make it harder for obama 's base to vote. you look at all the different voting changes, whether it's making it harder to register to vote, cutting back on early voting , passing voter i.d. laws, disenfranchising ex-felons, purging voters. they are all aimed at making it harder for obama 's core coalition to be able to turn out. and there really was no problem of voter fraud in 2008 or in any previous elections that required these kind of laws. what required these kind of laws from the republican party 's perspective was the election of barack obama and the fact that as you mentioned in earlier segments, the country was changing, becoming more diverse. rather than courting those voters, the gop has decided let's just make it harder for them to vote in the next election.
>> howard, this is beyond just ensuring that the president isn't re-elected. this is disenfranchising hundreds of thousands, if not millions of minority voters, that quote, it's not my job to worry about african-american turnout. as an elected representative, your job should be worrying and making it easier for people to vote and exercise a constitutional right.
>> it is not easy to vote in this country. the republicans are clearly making it more difficult. the bottom line is there's one party that is trying to make it easier for people to vote in this country, the democratic party . another party is trying to make it more difficult for people to vote, the republican party . that's a set of facts. the republicans will try to pretend that isn't so, that this is about the law and enforcing the law, but i think as we are seeing, in many cases, this is about suppressing president obama 's base.
>> they are now theoretically writing it into the republican party platform which they will be touting this week. we'll have more on this after the break. it's not exactly coincidence that many of these voter i.d. battles are fought in critical tossup states like pennsylvania and ohio . each one has its own special brand of subversion. we will look at the states of disgrace in particular, next. we're sitting on