Today Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley’s struck down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. The law mandated that all voters in the state must present a voter ID to vote. Many voting advocates called the Pennsylvania law nothing more than an attempt to suppress votes. Pennsylvania’s law has widely been viewed as one of the strictest in the U.S.
Why was it one of the strictest. For these three reasons:
1. The PA Voter ID law provided no safety net for voters with no ID. While some states will allow a voter to cast a “provisional ballot” if they could not produce an ID, PA didn’t allow this.
2. The list of IDs a voter could use was restricted. Voters could only use a Pennsylvania drivers license, a passport or a state produced ID costing $13.50. Voters could not use out of state college IDs or out of state drivers licenses — this is one of the reasons why students were likely to be affected by the law.
3. Many states have easier voting rules for voters 65 and over. Pennsylvania does not.
In his ruling, Judge McGinley wrote that, “voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election” and that Pennsylvania’s “Voter ID Law does not further this goal.” He also held that the law places an unreasonable burden on voters and that there was no compelling reason for the new voter ID law because in-person voter fraud wasn’t a major problem. In short, the Judge made all the arguments that have been made by voting rights groups since Republican controlled legislatures suddenly began passing new never-before-seen voter ID laws after President Obama was elected.
Also interesting to note is that at a time of “fiscal conservatism,” Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett has spend well over $6 million to implement the new voter ID law.
The Judge also noted in his ruling that students and the elderly are badly affected and that the Department of Transportation, where IDs are issued, are not staffed adequately to assist people.
Though many pro voter ID legislators, all of whom are Republicans, have been able to verify substantial amounts of voter fraud, that has been a primary reason given for passing voter ID laws. “The only fraud uncovered in this case is the ID law itself, which is exposed as a voter suppression tool adopted to game elections,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“This decision helped end our three-year long fight to protect the rights of voters in Pennsylvania,” said Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP Voting Rights Director and Senior Advisor to the President and CEO. “This Court recognizes that unnecessary barriers to the ballot box are counter to the principle this nation holds most dear—that all citizens should have free and unfettered access to the ballot box,” she added.
“Today was a good day to be a Pennsylvania voter,” said Michael A. Rubin of Arnold & Porter LLP, a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team. “In striking down this law, the court recognized that constitutional rights, especially the most fundamental right to vote, protect us from the government and cannot be taken away on the whim of that government,” Rubin added.
“What these voter ID laws do is put a lot of red tape between voters and their polling place,” said Ben Geffen of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
According to a release by the Advancement Project, the commonwealth and the governor decide to appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the plaintiffs’ legal team will continue to advocate on behalf of voters through the appeals process. Plaintiffs include the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and individual voters.
“This ruling is a victory for all those who believe that in a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all people,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens who lack one of the limited forms of acceptable photo ID can now cast their ballots without burdensome obstacles. By protecting voting as a fundamental right, today’s decision affirms that all Pennsylvania voters should have the opportunity to participate equally in the democratic process.”