Opponents of Pennsylvania’s new voter photo identification law suffered a potentially major setback Wednesday when a state judge refused to a request to block its implementation.
No sooner did Commonwealth Judge Robert E. Simpson reject the request in a 70-page document that stated the plaintiffs in the case failed to prove that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable,” civil rights and voting rights advocates vowed to appeal his ruling.
“This law, like other state laws enacted across the U.S., has the potential to suppress thousands of votes in the Commonwealth during this election,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said. “The NAACP, in conjunction with its state conferences, will continue to combat these efforts on the ground and mobilize voters. We will have to fight for our right to vote again.”
The Pennsylvania voting law fight has garnered national attention in the battle over the new laws, which have been approved in more than a dozen mostly-Republican states. Supporters say the laws are needed to protect the sanctity of the vote and foes decry as a blatant attempt to suppress the votes of minorities and others who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Under Pennsylvania’s photo ID law, passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett last March, election officials will accept various forms of photo ID for this November’s election, including driver’s licenses, state-issued non-driver’s ID cards, U.S. passports, student ID with expiration dates, and current military ID. But the law limits what’s acceptable ID in future elections.
In the court case, the state signed a stipulation document that said Pennsylvania hasn’t investigated or prosecuted any instances of voter fraud. “The parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere,” read the document that was signed by a senior deputy state attorney general.
Further, a study by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot) revealed that more than 758,000 registered voters – 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voting population – don’t have proper photo ID, potentially making them ineligible to vote this November.
The biggest problem area is Philadelphia, according to the PennDot study, where 186,830 registered voters – about 18 percent of the city’s total registered voter population – lacks PennDot-issued driver’s licenses or non-driver photo ID cards.
In June, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Tuzai bragged that the state’s photo ID law would allow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win the state.
In a speech, Tuzai ticked off a list of accomplishments to the GOP-controlled state legislature. “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.”
Still, Judge Simpson ruled in the state’s favor, contending that the plaintiffs in the case failed to prove that the new law would adversely impact voters.
“I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disenfranchised…Further…based on the availability of absentee voting, provisional ballots, and opportunities for judicial relief for those with special hardships, I am not convinced any of the individual Petitioners or other witness will not have their votes counted in the general election,” Simpson, a Republican, wrote in his decision.
Despite a state-acknowledged lack of evidence of in-person voter fraud, Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, whose department oversees Pennsylvania’s elections, said Wednesday’s ruling “will reinforce the principle of one person, one vote.”
“I am pleased Judge Simpson affirmed the constitutionality of the voter ID law,” she said in a statement. “By giving us a reliable way to verify the identity of each voter, the voter ID law will enhance confidence in our elections.”
Opponents of the law blasted the judge’s decision.
“Pennsylvania Republicans are trying to steal the election for Mitt Romney…” said Michael Eagle, District Director of CREDO SuperPAC, an anti-Tea Party group. “While we are disappointed with the Commonwealth Court’s decision today, we are committed to building a large-scale grassroots movement that will inform voters of the new law and work hard to ensure that eligible voters who want to vote out Tea Party…this November are not disenfranchised by this Republican scheme to steal the election.”
Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, said “Pennsylvania’s voter ID law erects an unequal barrier to voting for hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, disproportionately blocking veterans, seniors, and people of color from the polls.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial, chastised Judge Simpson and said the state’s photo ID voting law smacks of Jim Crow.
If the law isn’t overturned, “Pennsylvania will step backwards in time to an era when the vote was not guaranteed to everyone. Simpson downplayed that possibility, saying the voter ID law doesn’t specifically mention ‘any class or group’ so “its provisions are neutral and nondiscriminatory,” the Wednesday editorial said. “The judge must have forgotten that poll-tax laws didn’t specify black people, but they were written to keep African-Americans from voting. And poor white people were disenfranchised as well.”