Striking down an unnecessary, ill-conceived law

January 18, 2014

It’s not quite a stake through its heart – an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is all but certain – but a decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley striking down the state’s unnecessary and ill-conceived Voter ID law is a firm rebuke to lawmakers who shepherded this measure onto the statute books.

Approved in March 2012 by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett shortly thereafter, the law obliged registered voters to present a form of approved photo identification when they showed up their polling places. Though its supporters tossed around dark insinuations of potential fraud and promises that the ID requirement would ensure “election integrity,” the real purpose of the law enacted in Pennsylvania, and in other states controlled by Republican governors and state legislatures, was painfully, laughably obvious – to suppress the number of voters who might vote against them, or their party’s presidential candidate, such as students, the poor, the elderly or minorities. They showed their hand in June 2012 when state Rep. Mike Turzai, the GOP leader in the House, told a gathering of the faithful that Voter ID would “allow” Mitt Romney to win the commonwealth in that year’s election. Turzai didn’t get the chance to see if his theory would hold, however, since the law was not enforced in the 2012 election after it was challenged in court, nor has it been enforced in subsequent elections.

In his ruling, issued Friday morning, McGinley explained that “voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID law does not further this goal,” and that “a substantial threat still exists to the franchise of hundreds of thousands of registered electors and uncounted qualified electors.”

McGinley also pointed out the law “suggests a legislative disconnect from reality” and its requirements, which mandated that those residents seeking a photo ID had to travel to a PennDOT license center to get one, were burdensome. This is reinforced by a study from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, which found many PennDOT employees were confused about the law or offered misinformation to those asking about it. Some of the licensing centers had limited hours or weren’t open on some days, which placed yet another hurdle in the path of those wishing to cast a ballot.

Moreover, McGinley pointed out that the state did not present evidence of widespread voter fraud or even small-scale fraud. In fact, elections officials “testified as to their confidence in the integrity of the elections held to date, in which the photo ID requirement was not enforced.”

So why was this law needed in the first place?

McGinley concluded, “It does not pass constitutional muster.”

The approval of Voter ID, and its slapdash implementation, have been a black mark for both Corbett and our none-too-productive Legislature. That $1 million was spent in the fall on a harebrained media campaign to educate voters about it, even as it was being hashed over in court, should raise the blood pressure of taxpayers across the commonwealth.

When the governor and his allies take their Voter ID case to the state’s Supreme Court, we hope the seven justices demonstrate the same sound judgment as McGinley and declare this law null and void once and for all.



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