On January 17, 2014 the Commonwealth Court ruled Pennsylvania’s voter identification law unconstitutional. Judge Bernard McGinley’s order recognized that the law would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands: “The overwhelming evidence reflects that there are hundreds of thousands of qualified voters who lack compliant ID.”
While it is not yet clear if the Commonwealth will decide to appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we urge the state to consider all of the resources it has already spent on this case and instead re-direct potential appeal resources toward more pressing needs such as voter registration or high-quality public education.
Pennsylvania’s voter identification law has been widely recognized as one of the strictest in the country. When the law was originally passed by the state legislature, many touted it as a means for eliminating voter fraud. Throughout the course of trial, the state admitted that no such fraud exists. We are hopeful that other state’s will hear the message from this ruling: voter suppression tactics will not be tolerated by the court. Every voter is fundamentally entitled to cast a ballot.
The law would have placed an unnecessary burden on many voters, especially voters with physical disabilities or those who work multiple jobs and would not have been able to get to a very limited number of PennDOT locations: “Requiring electors who lack complaint Photo ID (and thus have no driver’s license) go to a [Drivers License Center] that may not be in their county, and may be several miles away and unreachable by public transportation, is untenable. Compound that barrier by physical limitations, preventing certain electors from traveling or waiting in line, the DLC Location Requirement becomes insurmountable.”
In spite of the state’s efforts to attempt to improve implementation of the law over the last eighteen months while trials chugged along, Judge McGinley recognized that the Commonwealth’s efforts were “too little too late.” The ruling went on to bash the state’s practice of misinforming voters during each election noting the state’s “educational and marketing campaign is largely ineffective and constantly confusing.”
The court’s ruling today is a huge victory for our state’s democracy: “The right to vote, fundamental in Pennsylvania, is irreplaceable, necessitating its protection before any deprivation occurs.”
Click here to view the full order.
Click here to read the press release on this decision.