In asking a lower court to reconsider its ruling that Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law won’t disenfranchise thousands of voters, the state Supreme Court seems to be saying it doesn’t agree with that assessment. But if that is the case, the court should have dispensed with the Kabuki theatre and forthrightly called the law what it is — an affront to democracy.
Instead, it sent the case back to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., further delaying justice, if it is to occur. Simpson must rule by Oct. 2, cutting it close if the ID law remains in effect for the Nov. 6 election. That means civic and other groups can’t slow down their efforts to make sure that as many voters as possible have the proper identification to vote, whether it’s needed in the end or not.
By punting the case back to Simpson Tuesday, the Supreme Court merely added to the confusion that may discourage potential voters from even trying, which is a more subtle form of disenfranchisement.
In his Aug. 15 ruling, Simpson took it on faith that the state wouldn’t fail to equip everyone who needed it with the right ID. But that isn’t happening. The state has issued only about 9,000 IDs, while the number who need them may be 80,000 or 800,000. No one, least of all the state, seems to know the exact number.
Those least likely to have a drivers license, the most common form of acceptable photo ID, are the old, young, and poor, many of them urbanites who use mass transit instead of driving. College IDs are acceptable, but they must have an expiration date, which isn’t the case with a number of schools. Some are trying to hurriedly remedy that with stickers.
Adding to the confusion, the state keeps changing the rules. At first, voters needed a birth certificate to get an ID. Now they don’t. The state has yet to detail an effective strategy to reach what could be tens of thousands of voters who are becoming so frustrated with the situation they feel like sitting out this election.
This law was a rush job from the start. Gov. Corbett signed it in March, and apparently expected the state to implement the radical new system without a hitch by November. Or maybe he didn’t really expect that to happen. After all, fellow Republican Mike Turzai, the House majority leader from Allegheny County, said the law would help the GOP’s Mitt Romney win the presidency.
If you remove that calculation, and voter ID’s proponents still insist it’s needed — though they have yet to provide proof of that — then the Department of State should be given more time to implement it correctly, which would be after this election. Better yet, forget about voter ID. It disenfranchises voters for no valid reason. The Supreme Court could make that ruling without further delay.