State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

State court rejects voter ID law

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 17, 2014 10:14 AM
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Pennsylvania's voter identification law has been struck down by state Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, who called the in-person photo ID requirement "invalid and unconstitutional on its face."

"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," McGinley wrote in his opinion, available here. An appeal to the state's Supreme Court is expected.

McGinley writes that allowing the law to stand would result in adding to the "chaos in implementation and inaccurate messaging that has ensued since the statute's enactment," the latter of which could be a reference to the state's voter ID ad campaign, poll workers' reportedly inconsistent directions to voters during "soft rollouts" of the law, or both.

The ruling comes nearly two years after the law was first passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature in March 2012. The law still hasn't been enforced, due to multiple injunctions.

Supporters say requiring photo ID is a common-sense remedy for voter fraud - a way to keep people from impersonating others and casting fraudulent ballots. Opponents say the law is an attempt to disenfranchise minorities and Democratic-leaning groups less likely to have ID.

Groups opposing voter ID say the requirement would disenfranchise thousands of Pennsylvanians who are less likely to have certain kinds of acceptable ID and unable to get it. Commonwealth officials say they've met their burden for making such ID accessible to everyone.

"The Voter ID Law as written suggests a legislative disconnect from reality," writes McGinley in his opinion, noting a chasm between the law "as intended" and "as implemented, imperfectly and inaccurately." The commonwealth has made efforts to make proper ID available to everyone, but McGinley writes that, not only are the alternate IDs available only to certain groups of people, the IDs "are not guaranteed or actually available in practice." On page 35 of the ruling, the commonwealth's patchwork system of acceptable photo IDs is likened to a "house of cards."

The ruling also affirms the argument of voter ID's opponents that the law has a disproportionate effect on minorities, the poor, the youngest voters, and the infirm.

"There is little dispute that the burdens the Voter ID Law imposes weigh most heavily on the most vulnerable members of society," writes McGinley in his opinion.

Gov. Corbett said Friday morning his office is still reviewing the ruling. His legal counsel said he could appeal to Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, or ask for another hearing in Commonwealth Court.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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