Lawyer Witold J. Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, which helped lead the legal challenge, said “the act was plainly revealed to be nothing more than a voter-suppression tool.”
Pennsylvania’s Democratic leaders charged that the law was a cynical attempt by Republicans to suppress balloting by seniors, minorities and other Democratic-leaning groups in the last presidential election. Republicans called it an election-security measure, though administration officials acknowledged that they knew of no examples of voter impersonation.
The legislation was approved during a presidential election campaign at a time other GOP-led states also were tightening their voting requirements — setting off a partisan clash that continued through Election Day.
At a 12-day trial, plaintiffs including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project emphasized problems in processing and distributing a new ID card available for free to voters without a Pennsylvania driver’s license or other acceptable ID. They said dozens of registered voters who applied for the cards before the 2012 election did not receive them until afterward.
Lawyers for the state defended the law, arguing that a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign in 2012 and the refinement of the special voting-only card by the Pennsylvania Department of State educated voters about the law’s requirements and ensured that any registered voter who lacks an appropriate ID could get one.
In his ruling, McGinley said the special card was a “creation” of the State Department that is not authorized in the law and is “fraught with illegalities and dubious authority.”
McGinley cited “overwhelming evidence” that hundreds of thousands of qualified voters lack IDs that comply with the law and panned the state’s educational and marketing efforts as “largely ineffective and consistently confusing.”
The voting-only IDs were distributed through the state Department of Transportation’s licensing centers. The judge said that was an inconvenience for voters.
“In contrast to 9,300 polling places, to obtain an ID for voting purposes, a qualified elector must overcome the barrier of transport and travel to one of PennDOT’s 71 (licensing centers) during limited hours,” he said.
(AP Photo: Gov. Tom Corbett gestures as he responds to a question during a news conference Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, in Philadelphia.)