Battle Continues Over Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law: What It Means for Voters

The controversial five-month-old Pennsylvania law that requires voters to show valid photo ID in order to cast their ballots at the polls was upheld this week by a state Commonwealth Court judge, but the battle is likely far from being over.

In a 70-page opinion, Judge Robert Simpson Jr. upheld the law, saying that it would not be an unfair or unconstitutional burden on voters in the Commonwealth, according to a story in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Simpson refused to issue an injunction to block the law from being used in the upcoming Nov. 6 election, which was sought by opponents who consider the measure to be a voter suppression effort.

Simpson “wrote that opponents of the new law, who argued that too many voters lack and would not be able to acquire acceptable ID cards, ‘did not establish … that disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable,'” according to the Post-Gazette story. “If they instead go to the polls without an ID card, they could vote using provisional ballot, he wrote, adding that any issues could be resolved afterward on a case-by-case basis.”

Simpson wrote that he is “not convinced any of the individual petitioners or other witnesses will not have their votes counted in the general election,” calling the new law “merely an election regulation to verify a voter’s identity.”

Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are already planning appeals of Simpson’s decision, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“A petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected within days, if not hours,” the Inquirer story reported. “More legal briefs and courtroom arguments are expected. Others have been eyeing a parallel challenge in federal court.”

State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery counties), a key opponent of the voter ID law, called Simpson’s ruling “disappointing.”

“The court’s refusal to grant the injunction and allow the law to proceed may result in hundreds of thousands of voters being disenfranchised,” Hughes said in a prepared statement. “This is deeply troubling and I am very disappointed with this ruling.”

PA State Sen. Vincent Hughes, 7th Senatorial District

Supporters of voter ID laws in Pennsylvania in other states around the nation argue that the laws are needed to prevent vote fraud, but such claims are completely unjustified, Hughes said.

“Based on the trend of these voter suppression laws cropping up throughout the nation, the real nature of this law is clear – tip the odds in favor of the Republican candidate in November’s presidential election,” he said. “This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of the poor, seniors, students and racial minorities.”

Hughes calls the law “nothing more than a solution looking for a problem, a poll tax. The right to vote was guaranteed through the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. It is a right of all Americans. It is inherently unfair to snatch this right from so many.”

Hughes said he hopes that opponents of the law will still be able to block it in time for the election through appeals to higher courts. “Until then, I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that individuals have the proper identification to vote in November.”

His State Senate Web page includes information for state voters detailing what they need to do to be able to vote on Nov. 6 under the new law.

In the 2008 general election, there were only 4 cases of voter fraud reported in Pennsylvania, out of the 8.73 million registered voters, according to statistics cited by Hughes. Since 2004, Pennsylvania has cast 20 million votes and had 4 convictions for voter fraud. A national study conducted by President George Bush’s Justice Department found only 86 cases of fraud in the United States between 2002 and 2007 out of 300 million votes cast, according to Hughes’ office.

“There’s been no fraud that this is meant to protect,” Hughes said in an earlier discussion with MyPhillyLawyer. “All this will do is deny people’s participation in a constitutionally-protected right. You’ve got to shut this stuff down in the very beginning.”

“Under the guise of preventing voter fraud, this bill would actually suppress the right to vote for many eligible voters in Pennsylvania who do not have a photo ID,” Hughes said. Instead, some 340,000 Pennsylvania seniors do not have a state-issued photo I.D., which will make it harder for them to vote, he said.

Supporters of the law, including Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, argue that the law will oprevent “fraud” and won’t be an unnecessary burden on voters. “Now that the court has upheld the constitutionality of the law, we can continue to focus our attention on ensuring that every Pennsylvania citizen who wants to vote has the identification necessary to make sure their vote counts,” Corbett said in a statement.

As many as 1 million Pennsylvanians could be barred from voting under the new law if they don’t present proper photo ID, according to opponents.

Eighteen other states have toughened their voter identification laws in the past two years, according to the Inquirer story. “Challenges are pending in more than a third, including in Wisconsin, South Carolina, Texas and Florida.”

Because Pennsylvania could potentially be a high-impact swing state in the upcoming presidential election, observers expect the state’s high court to put the case on a fast track, the paper reported.

When voting in elections in Pennsylvania in the past, all you needed to do was to show up at the polls, give a poll worker your name and address, and sign your signature on a voter registration list before getting your credentials to cast your ballot.

That’s the way it should still be.

This new voter ID law will essentially make it harder for many citizens to prove their identities and vote for the candidates of their choice.

That’s not fair and it’s not right.

For more information on the requirements of the new Pennsylvania Voter ID law, and to be sure that you will be able to vote on Election Day, Nov. 6, be sure to check the VotesPA Web site:

All photo IDs must contain an expiration date that is current, unless noted otherwise.  Acceptable IDs include:

*Photo IDs issued by the U.S. Federal Government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

*Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver’s license photo ID (IDs are valid for voting purposes 12 months past expiration date)

*Valid U.S. passport

*U.S. military ID – active duty and retired military (a military or veteran’s ID must designate an expiration date or designate that the expiration date is indefinite). Military dependents’ ID must contain an expiration date

*Employee photo ID issued by Federal, PA, County or Municipal government

*Photo ID cards from an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning

*Photo ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility, including long-term care facilities

“NO ONE legally entitled to vote will be denied the right to do so,” according to VotesPA. “If you do not have a photo ID or are indigent and unable to obtain one without payment of a fee, you may cast a provisional ballot, and will have six days to provide your photo ID and/or an affirmation to your county elections office to have your ballot count.  If you have a religious objection to being photographed you can still vote by presenting a valid without-photo driver’s license or a valid without-photo ID card issued by PennDOT.”