October 2, 2012

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Blocked for Nov. Election


A judge said today that Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law cannot take effect until after the Nov. 6 presidential election, meaning that voters in this swing state won’t yet have to show ID at the polls.

In his ruling, Judge Robert Simpson said that the state had improved the system to issue voter IDs, but that there wasn’t enough time to ensure everyone would have an ID in time for November’s election. You can read the full decision here (pdf). The case could still be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but it’s unlikely that the decision would change before Nov. 6.

Pennsylvania passed a law in March requiring voters to produce a government-issued photo ID card to vote. It’s one of 16 states that have passed some kind of restrictive voter laws since last year, ostensibly to prevent the rare occurrence of voter fraud.

Some of these laws have been overturned. In August, a three-judge panel struck down Texas’ voter ID law, saying it would discriminate against poor minority voters. A ban on early-voting in some Florida counties was also overruled by a judge, who said the ban discriminates against blacks.

A decision on a voter ID law in South Carolina is expected in early October, although the judges have wondered aloud whether it might make more sense to hold off on implementing the law until after the November election.

The Pennsylvania law has received particular scrutiny in part because it’s an important swing state with 20 electoral votes. But it’s also the only state where an official has admitted to a partisan motive. In June, Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania House majority leader, said that the law was intended to allow former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to win the presidential election. Turzai’s spokesman, Steve Miskin, later said that the law was  really about preventing voter fraud.

But state officials later admitted in court [pdf] that they had no evidence of voter fraud in the past, and didn’t expect it to happen in this election. They argued, however, that voters who didn’t have proper ID could obtain a free ID from the state, making an easily surmountable hurdle to the polls.

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