A judge in Pennsylvania has refused to block the state’s photo voter ID law, one of the strictest in the nation. Civil rights groups had challenged the law, representing ten Pennsylvanians impacted by it, and brought dozens of witnesses who testified to their inability to get picture ID due to lacking primary documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.
But despite the fact that an untold number of Pennsylvania voters—most estimates range in the hundreds of thousands—lack ID, that the state’s own governor and secretary of state didn’t know the details of the law, a state legislator admitting the law would throw the election to Mitt Romney and testimony that thousands of African-Americans and Latinos would be unfairly burdened by the law, Judge Robert Simpson rejected many of the arguments made against it, particularly that it violated the state’s constitutional protection of the right to vote.
The photo ID requirement of Act 18 is a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life. The Commonwealth’s asserted interest in protecting public confidence in elections is a relevant and legitimate state interest sufficiently weighty to justify the burden.
His ruling mirrored the ruling handed down by the US Supreme Court, which upheld Indiana’s voter ID law. The difference here, though, is that the Indiana case was argued on the premise that it violated the US Constitution, while the Pennsylvania case was about the state’s constitution.
Civil rights groups involved in the case say they are now considering appealing to the state’s supreme court, where it would have ended up no matter how the judge ruled, as the judge acknowledged on the opening day of the Pennsylvania hearing.
“Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law erects an unequal barrier to voting for hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, disproportionately blocking veterans, seniors, and people of color,” said Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis. “Because no citizen should be denied this basic American right or unfairly burdened to exercise it, the Advancement Project is taking immediate steps to appeal today’s court ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”
“If other legislators across the country take this decision as a green light, still more citizens nationwide could have their votes obstructed this November,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project. “Today’s ruling not only hinders Pennsylvania citizens from participating in the electoral process; it undermines the most basic fabric of our democracy.”
Most striking is that the judge allowed for the law to continue even though the state was not able to produce evidence of any voter fraud occurring in Pennsylvania, which was the premise upon which Republican state legislators passed the law. Judge Simpson said in his opinion that the state’s lack of evidence of voter fraud didn’t matter because the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s law “despite the absence of any evidence of in-person voter fraud occurring in that state.” (For a great list of highlights from Judge Simpson’s rulings, read “thirteen key points on PA Court ruling upholding Voter ID law” from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)
Still, one person is convinced voter fraud is and has been a threat. Representative Mike Turzai, who notoriously stated that the voter ID law was going “to allow Governor Romney to win the state,” said in a response to Judge Simpson’s ruling: “It is unfortunate, but there has been a history of voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”
A recent Washington Post survey found that a majority of Americans believe that voter fraud exists, and that’s likely due to people in power making reckless statements like Turzai’s.