With plans to implement one of the most restrictive laws requiring American voters to present a photo ID, Pennsylvania risks an election debacle that could disfranchise far more people than any hanging chad on a paper ballot ever did. It’s up to an appeals court judge deliberating on a challenge to the law to head that off before a disaster occurs on Nov. 6. And Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson has been given good reason to do just that.
Over seven days of testimony, Simpson heard evidence that up to 750,000 registered voters, and possibly more, may not have the correct state Department of Transportation-approved ID to cast a regular ballot. In Philadelphia alone, nearly 200,000 non-driving voters lack needed credentials. Simpson also learned the particular plight of 10 voters who sued along with the American Civil Liberties Union and voter and civil rights groups. Their stories clearly demonstrated they would have great difficulty obtaining the right identification, if they can.
Besides the plaintiffs challenging the five-month-old voter-ID law, any voter seeking a photo ID at a PennDot office likely will encounter long lines, restricted hours, and staffers who are unclear on the rules for voter ID, other testimony showed.
Even tweaks that state officials have made to relax requirements in getting a photo ID will leave many voters having to jump through various hoops — with the election only months away. Just as important, top aides to Gov. Corbett conceded in writing that the state cannot point to a single instance of voter impersonation. Yet such fraud was the purported justification for imposing draconian voter-ID rules.
Meanwhile, there has been no convincing refutation of comments by state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who bragged to GOP supporters that the voter-ID rules would assure Mitt Romney wins the pivotal Keystone State contest for president. The expected partisan gain would stem, presumably, from so many Democratic-leaning urban, elderly, and other voters lacking photo ID.
In their legal brief filed last week in support of overturning the statute, Democratic state lawmakers made a compelling case by pointing out that Corbett administration officials haven’t been able to show that the need for voter ID would “offset the blow to citizens’ … constitutional and fundamental right to vote.”
If Simpson bases his decision on the state’s preparedness to enact voter ID, he can make a strong case to halt what has been a hurried, if not botched, implementation of the law before such a critical election. At a minimum, that would mean voter ID should be delayed beyond November in the hope that the legislature would recast it, or scrap it.
The judge, though, also has heard ample evidence to rule the law unconstitutional on the grounds that challengers have proven it would cause an unacceptable voter hardship. The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated such a yardstick would be valid to rule that voter-ID laws are illegal. Whether unconstitutional or merely misguided, Pennsylvania’s unnecessary voter-ID rules should be buried in a deep hole.