Pennsylvania Voter ID law on hold for general election

Posted Wednesday, October 3, 2012 in Politics

Pennsylvania Voter ID law on hold for general election

Voter ID protest in Philadelphia

by Gina Hamilton

One of the wild cards in the 2012 general election was the widespread use of legislation to decrease participation by groups statistically more likely to vote Democratic: the poor, transient populations, the very elderly, including nursing home residents, young people, minorities, and others.

One method was to require, for the first time, state-issued identification — either driving licenses or non-driver's identifications — with a current address, at the polls. 

However, civil liberties groups, calling these bills "voter disenfranchisement," went to court and challenged many of the bills. The challenges were successful in some battleground states. Wisconsin's photo ID law was ruled unconstitutional, for instance, while others lowered expectations: Ohio's "ID" law accepts utility bills, paychecks, and virtually anything that has the voter's name and address on it, while New Hampshire's bill was changed to include the signing of an affidavit in lieu of a photo ID. Ohio had also lost on a challenge to its early voting procedure, another "voter disenfranchisement" step taken by its Republican-controlled Legislature.

Of all the legislation, Pennsylvania's bill was among the strictest in the nation, requiring a photo identification that requires a birth certificate as well as another form of identification — often a tall order for someone who wasn't born in the state or was born so long ago that state-issued birth certificates were not being produced. It also disqualified many students who consider Pennsylvania their domicile, but who have driving licenses from out of state. 

The law was challenged and the state Supreme Court bounced it back to the lower court, saying it had serious concerns about "liberal access" to acceptable voter identification.  On Tuesday, the lower court put the voter ID requirement on hold, at least for next month's general election, writing:

I have three problems with the testimony regarding the proposed changes. First and foremost, the evidence is similar in kind to the prospective “assurances of government officials” testimony which the Supreme Court found an unsatisfactory basis for a “predictive judgment.” ... Second, the proposed changes are to occur about five weeks before the general election, and I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access. Third, the proposed changes are accompanied by candid admissions by government officials that any new deployment will reveal unforeseen problems which impede implementation. These admissions were corroborated by anecdotal evidence offered by Petitioners regarding the initial roll-out of the DOS IDs in August. For these reasons, I cannot conclude the proposed changes cure the deficiency in liberal access identified by the Supreme Court.

This is widely seen as a victory for the civil libertarians, who had decried Act 18 as an unreasonable barrier to voting in Pennsylvania.

It also likely keeps Pennsylvania firmly in Democratic control, at least for this election cycle. In June, Pennsylvania's House Republican Leader Mike Turzai boasted to a GOP dinner that the ID requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, and Georgia's top court upheld that state's voter ID law. But a federal panel struck down Texas' voter ID law, and the state court in Wisconsin has blocked its voter ID laws for now. The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law earlier this year.

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