Judge Upholds Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Wednesday morning released his decision that parties challenging the Voter ID law were not able to prove it will cause 'immediate and irreparable harm' to the electorate.
Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law will stand … for now.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Wednesday morning released his decision that parties challenging the Voter ID law were not able to prove it will cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to the electorate.
The challenge to the law was brought by voter advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. The groups suing to overturn the law immediately vowed to appeal the judgment to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Pennsylvania passed a law in March requiring all registered voters to show a valid and “acceptable” photo ID before voting. That means every voter in Forest Hills, Edgewood, Swissvale, Regent Square and other local communities will need valid photo ID when they arrive at the polls.
Opponents of the law say it disproportionately targets the elderly as well as the poor and minorities, who typically vote Democrat. Furthermore, critics say that the burden of obtaining an acceptable ID for these people would keep them from voting.
However, Judge Simpson decided that the state has surpassed its requirements to offer photo identification to those who need it and granted voters the ability to cast provisional ballots and prove their identity within six days. He also noted that some of those who testified for the plaintiffs would likely need to use absentee ballots to vote.
“(The plaintiffs) did an excellent job of ‘putting a face’ to those burdened by the voter ID requirement,” Simpson wrote in his decision. “At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for counsel.”
Thirty states have some sort of Voter ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and of those, 19 do not require a photo, six require a photo and five, including Pennsylvania, have strict photo requirements.
State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, reacted to the court ruling: "The decision of the court is highly disturbing and disconcerting. Without question, the goal of the voter ID law was to disenfranchise voters and suppress voting so that Republicans could gain the upper hand in this fall’s presidential election.
"This law was never about preventing voter fraud. The state’s attorneys stipulated that there was no evidence of fraud and witness after witness presented details about the obstacles that they face in trying to comply with the law. Taking away a citizen’s right to vote and participate in a democracy is a serious matter. No one who is eligible to vote should be prevented from casting their ballot.
The right to vote deserves to be protected and participation should be secured not shredded," Costa continued. "That is why I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will step in and restore a person’s right to vote by overturning the ruling of Commonwealth Court.”
Both the NAACP and Pennsylvania League of Women Voters also reacted to the decision.
“The court had a chance to intercede the PA legislators’ attempt to suppress the vote on Election Day,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP.
“However, with today’s decision and the estimated amount of Pennsylvanians who lack the required photo ID, we will witness a marked decrease in voter turnout and in the number of ballots that will be counted on and after Election Day," Jealous said.
The League of Women Voters, the lead plantiff in the lawsuit, issued a statement saying the organization is "appalled by this decision," noting this is the first time in recent months that voting rights groups have been unsuccessful in blocking implementation of these voter suppression laws. The states that have halted voter ID laws include Texas, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
"The League is discouraged but undaunted," said Olivia Thorne, president of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. "It’s a sad day for citizens when political rhetoric wins over democracy. As many as 1.2 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised in November’s election if the Supreme Court allows Judge Simpson’s ruling to stand. The erosion of one person’s right to vote impacts each of us.”
In June, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined county Controller Chelsa Wagner in challenging the law. Wagner, a Democrat, has endorsed efforts in the courts to keep the law from taking effect before the election and her office filed an amicus brief in the challenge to the law.
Controversy over the law flared in June when state Democrats criticized a comment from State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, about the newly enacted law.
Turzai's comment, which made its way to YouTube, was among several items he said had been accomplished on the Republican agenda. On the video, he says: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
Do you agree or disagree with the Commonwealth Court decision? Let us know what you think in the comments section.