On October 2nd, a court in the State of Pennsylvania temporarily suspended much of the state’s newly enacted voter ID law on the grounds that it would unfairly disenfranchise voters.
The court’s decision lets the law remain on the books, but it ensures that anyone who goes to the polls this November is given access to a ballot. Depending upon future decisions by elections officials, these ballots may be considered as normal ballots and counted regularly or may be held as “provisional ballots” to be counted upon confirmation of the voters’ eligibility.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, while upholding the substance of the law, felt that not enough had been done to get state-issued IDs into the hands of voters prior to the 2012 elections. He wrote:
I reject the underlying assertion that the offending activity is the request to produce photo ID; instead, I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement. As a result, I will not restrain election officials from asking for photo ID at the polls.
Last March, the PA legislature passed a highly restrictive voter identification law which has now which forced all hopeful voters to present a valid state photo ID at the polling place in order to cast a vote. Unfortunately, the fact that nearly 750,000 Pennsylvania residents are legally allowed to vote but lack such identification means that this law might result in the massive disenfranchisement of voters.
Demographics which are disproportionately affected by this type of voter disenfranchisement include the elderly, poor, and minority voters.
After the passage of the PA voter ID law, civil voter’s rights groups brought forward a legal challenge against the law. In September, this challenge reached the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, where it was decided that the case should be sent back down to a lower court and ruled on through a very narrow criteria: the law was to be upheld if the access to and availability of the types of ID which are required to vote would prevent the law from disenfranchising significant numbers of voters.
While this decision is not a total win for those who see voter ID laws as an unconstitutional method of voter disenfranchisement, it will mitigate the effects of the law during the November election.