Voter-ID law hasn't been defeated

A voter-registration table was recently set up in the basement of South Philadelphia's Zion AME Church. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)

A judge’s ruling Tuesday that Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law does not have to be enforced for the Nov. 6 election doesn’t go far enough. The discriminatory law, like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other painful attacks on democracy, should be permanently retired.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr.’s ruling allows anyone eligible to vote to do so on Nov. 6 without showing a photo ID. But poll workers can still demand to see an ID, which leaves the door open for voters to be harassed.

Simpson’s ruling was an admission that he was wrong with his prediction in an earlier ruling that no voter would be disenfranchised by the outrageous law, among the strictest in the nation. Since the state could not offer as evidence a single incident of voter impersonation, it’s too bad he didn’t also acknowledge that the law is an affront.

The mass confusion produced by trying to hurriedly enforce a law affecting 8.3 million voters, and which was only signed by Gov. Corbett in March, had many frustrated Pennsylvanians questioning whether they should even try to vote.

Democrats complained that the law was targeted at their ranks, which include more of the elderly, disabled, poor, young, and minority voters most likely to lack a driver’s license or other acceptable form of photo ID. That complaint was given weight when House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) boasted that voter ID would allow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win in Pennsylvania.

The state’s option for non-drivers required applicants to run a bureaucratic gauntlet to get a substitute ID issued by either the state Department of Transportation or the Department of State. But PennDot workers were poorly trained for this massive new responsibility. Not surprisingly, voters had to wait in long lines. Recently registered voters were turned away because their information was not in the system, while some longtime voters were denied IDs because clerks couldn’t find their information.

The state never tried to test how long it would take to get IDs to eligible voters. Court testimony indicates its program was a colossal failure. Fewer than 11,000 of the up to hundreds of thousands of people who needed state-issued ID cards had actually received them. Sometimes, government failure is due to incompetence. But in this case, completing a herculean task in a short period of time simply proved impossible.

Simpson didn’t order the state to cease its $5 million “education” campaign, but the state should immediately pull the plug on the expensive ads since it’s no longer true that people can’t vote on Nov. 6 without a valid photo ID. The judge rejected the use of provisional ballots for those without ID.

Simpson also didn’t retreat from his original ruling in August that the voter-ID law is constitutional. “I reject the underlying assertion that the offending activity is the request to produce photo ID,” he said. That means voter ID could still lead to the disenfranchisement of otherwise eligible voters in later elections. Instead of waiting for that, or leaving the matter to the courts, the legislature should repeal this throwback to the days of Jim Crow.