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Defending Disenfranchisement: Judge Upholds PA Voter ID Law

Anthony Kammer

Pennsylvania state court judge Robert Simpson refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the state’s controversial voter ID legislation today, despite allegations that the law was discriminatory and passed for partisan gain. Unless reversed on appeal, this ruling means that Pennsylvania’s voter identification requirements, which by some estimates could render as many as 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters ineligible, will be in effect for this November’s elections.

Judge Simpson’s 70-page opinion is available here, and Rick Hasen has a good summary of the decision at Election Law Blog.

In short, Judge Simpson determined that strict scrutiny did not apply and, taking a deferential stance toward the state legislature, stated that the law would be valid if the burden on voters could be justified by a valid state interest. In applying this analysis, Judge Simpson found that the state of Pennsylvania had a legitimate interest in ensuring that only lawful registrants voted and in preserving the integrity of elections.

The decision devotes very little space—less than a page in a 70-page opinion—to the actual burden the law places on citizens who lack the ID required. The court instead emphasized the availability of free IDs and ultimately concluded that the photo ID requirements did not affect all voters and were not so excessively burdensome as to invalidate the statute.

This ruling means that many individuals’ will not be able to exercise their right to vote this November, and it has helped make more likely the candid hopes of Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R), who stated that, “Voter ID. . . is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

As an attorney for the affected voters told Bloomberg earlier today, “At trial, we demonstrated that there are about a million registered voters who lack the ID necessary to vote under Pennsylvania’s photo ID law. If the court’s decision stands, a lot of those people will not be able to vote in November.”

Demos’ Tova Wang issued a report earlier this year highlighting efforts to get people ID in response to suppressive Voter ID legislation. Organizations in a number of states have established “Got ID?” programs designed to assist citizens who wish to obtain photo ID in order to vote. While this case will likely be appealed to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, this report illustrates that there is still a lot that can be done to ensure that every eligible voter is able to vote in the coming elections.