In Harrisburg Pennsylvania, the State Supreme Court today, by a 4-2 vote, has remanded the controversial Voter Photo ID Law back to the lower court. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The Supreme Court has ordered that the state’s controversial new voter ID law be returned to a lower court for a speedy hearing on how the state is implementing it to ensure all voters have access to appropriate state-issued photo identification.
The Supreme Court decision gave the lower court until October 2nd to determine the impact and the ability of the state to insure voting eligibility protections. With today’s remand, the lower court will face pressure from plaintiffs and advocacy groups to overturn the law on constitutional grounds, but – more compellingly – that there is simply not enough time or state facilities available to get the required Photo ID’s into the hands of upwards of 750,000 voters impacted by the new requirement by the November 6th General Election.
It has been reported that only 6,000 additional eligible voters have – so far – been able to obtain the required photo ID, spending needed money to get supporting documentation (birth certificates, etc.), traveling long distances and waiting in lines for hours at state Department of Transportation Offices.
If the ruling is allowed to stand without modification, the Supreme Court could then act, or the law could possibly be challenged in federal court. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of those states subject to special federal court supervision relative to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, so a challenge there would have to be on constitutional grounds (14th Amendment and 15th Amendment)…i.e., that it deprives citizens of due process and/or equal protection under the law by disenfranchising them. Pennsylvania is already embroiled with the D.O.J. by recently refusing to turn over documents related to compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, sensing the public interest and importance of their ruling, took the unprecedented step of televising the oral arguments. The latest realclearpolitics.com poll averages, shows a Obama lead over Romney of 7.7% (at 49% to 41.3%), so…even though this is outside the 3-4 point “margin of error,” this decision could well put Pennsylvania ‘in play’ if allowed to stand. Lawyers representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were aggressively challenged about the state’s hotly contested Voter ID Law and its timing and impact by the justices.
The controversial Voter Photo ID Law faced a serious constitutional test before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court is split between three Democrats and four Republicans, but one Republican justice is currently suspended pending a seven-count criminal corruption indictment. This is after a lower court ruling in mid-August refused to block the law despite a lack of evidence of any past or present voter fraud or substantiated likelihood of future voter fraud and in spite of a political statement issued by a top state Republican, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, that the new ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson said Turzai’s remarks were “disturbing,” and “tendentious,” yet cited that since the law applies equally to all voters it doesn’t violate any constitutional protections, concluding that it, “does not expressly disenfranchise or burden any qualified elector or group of electors. It imposes only a limited burden on voters’ rights, and the burden does not outweigh the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep,” he wrote in a 70-page decision.
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenged the new law in court and asked it “to invalidate the law on grounds that it would disenfranchise and deter hundreds of thousands of qualified voters who lacked the required government-issued identification,” according to an August 15th report filed by the Christian Science Monitor …
Simpson rejected those arguments, saying that state lawmakers did not violate any protections of the Pennsylvania or federal constitutions by requiring voters to show a drivers’ license or other photo ID before casting a ballot.
“The photo ID requirement … is a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life,” he wrote.
“The Commonwealth’s asserted interest in protecting public confidence in elections is a relevant and legitimate state interest sufficiently weighty to justify the burden,” he said.
During a six-day hearing last month, state officials said there had been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. But they said the measure nonetheless was necessary to safeguard and bolster the integrity of the election process.
The new statute was enacted in March by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Thomas Corbett. In defending the new voter photo ID requirement in the lower court proceedings, attorney Alfred Putnam filed a brief on behalf of the Commonwealth claiming, “The statute does not disenfranchise any class of voters, it merely tightens the voter identification requirements applicable to all voters.”
Originally, in debating the measure, lawmakers claimed the law would potentially impact only one percent of Pennsylvania’s approximately 8.75 million registered voters (2008). However, some experts have estimated that as many as 1.3 million voters will be impacted and even the most conservative estimates reveal that upwards of 750,000 Pennsylvania voters (or 9% of registered voters!) currently do not possess the required state-issued photo ID necessary to cast a ballot in November.
A study released last Friday by Jon C Rogowski, PhD, for phys.org cites the impact of the new Photo ID requirement falls disproportionately on “people of color.”
“We know from a variety of recent studies that young people and people of color – especially African Americans – possess state-issued photo identification cards at much lower rates than whites,” said Rogowski, who teaches a course on American political institutions at Washington University. “These new photo identification laws, then, are likely to significantly reduce overall levels of turnout among young people, and especially among young people of color.”
It is also widely believed that students, the poor and elderly – regardless of race or ethnicity – will be largely impacted by the new law and, therefore, disenfranchised. These are among key demographics that tend to support Democratic candidates – especially in urban areas – where these groups are much less likely to own cars or, therefore have need of a state-issued drivers license, which would satisfy the new Photo ID requirement. Also, the burden of obtaining the needed documentation to obtain a state-issued Photo ID is greater on those of limited means or with limited access to the state offices issuing these documents and ID’s.
In closing, I direct readers to an article appearing August 16th in The Atlantic, setting forth just why the Pennsylvania law is unconstitutional. The article also cites as a terrible precedent by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 in the Indiana voter ID law I have previously reported on, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. As reported by Garrett Epps in his article for The Atlantic…”In time, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board may come to rank with Bush v. Gore as among the worst recent decisions by the Supreme Court. That case has made possible the ongoing campaign to gut the right to vote.”
Here are nine recent, related AI articles drawing attention to the Republican Voter Disenfranchisement Crusade….