Judge Bernard McGinley of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled against the state’s strict voter ID law today following a lengthy trial last summer. The law had been temporarily blocked since last October pending a full trial. The ruling is a big win for voting rights and a clear setback for voter ID supporters.
Judge McGinley found that the law violated the state constitution because hundreds of thousands of registered voters lacked the restrictive forms of ID required by the state, few had obtained the requisite ID since the law’s passage in March 2012, the state had not made it easy to get an ID and there was no evidence of in-person voter fraud to justify the burdens of the law.
“Hundreds of thousands of electors in Pennsylvania lack compliant ID,” McGinley wrote. “Enforcement of the Voter ID Law as to these electors has the effect of disenfranchising them through no fault of their own. Inescapably, the Voter ID law infringes upon qualified electors’ right to vote.”
Noted McGinley: “In contrast to the hundreds of thousands who lack compliant photo ID, only 17,000 photo IDs for voting purposes have been issued.” Since the 2012 election, fewer than 150 new voting IDs had been issued by the state per month.
That’s because getting a voter ID in Pennsylvania was a bureaucratic nightmare. There are 9,300 polling places in the state, but only seventy-one DMV offices. There are only five DMV offices for the entire city of Philadelphia, none in nine counties and the in sixteen counties offices are only open one or two days a week . “The Voter ID Law does not contain, on its face, any valid non-burdensome means of providing compliant photo ID to qualified electors,” McGinley wrote. “Accordingly, the Voter ID Law is facially unconstitutional.” The lead plaintiff in the case, Viviette Applewhite, was a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and had voted in every election for the past fifty years but did not have a driver’s license and was at risk of being disenfranchised by the new law.
Nor did the state present evidence to justify the new voter ID law. The state “wholly failed to show any evidence of in-person voter fraud,” McGinley wrote. “Certainly a vague concern about voter fraud does not rise to a level that justifies the burdens construction here. Therefore, this Court does not find in-person voter fraud a compelling interest the Voter ID Law was designed to serve.”
As I’ve written before, the devil is in the details when it comes to voter ID laws and other sophisticated, restrictive voting measures being introduced today. McGinley’s ruling “dispelled the myth that voter ID is commonplace and that everyone who needs an ID has one,” said Michael Rubin, an attorney with Arnold & Porter who argued against the law.