UPDATED: Judge Upholds Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Wednesday morning released his decision that parties challenging the Voter ID law were not able to prove it will cause 'immediate and irreparable harm' to the electorate.
Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law will stand … for now.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Wednesday morning released his decision that parties challenging the Voter ID law were not able to prove it will cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to the electorate.
The challenge to the law was brought by voter advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. The groups suing to overturn the law immediately vowed to appeal the judgment.
“The court had a chance to intercede the PA legislators’ attempt to suppress the vote on Election Day,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP regarding the ruling. “However, with today’s decision and the estimated amount of Pennsylvanians who lack the required photo ID, we will witness a marked decrease in voter turnout and in the number of ballots that will be counted on and after Election Day.”
Pennsylvania passed a law in March requiring all registered voters to show a valid and “acceptable” photo ID before voting. That means every voter in Plum, Oakmont and Verona will need valid photo ID when they arrive at the polls.
Opponents of the law say it disproportionately targets the elderly as well as the poor and minorities, who typically vote Democrat. Furthermore, critics say that the burden of obtaining an acceptable ID for these people would keep them from voting.
State Rep. Frank Dermody (D-Oakmont) said he is disappointed with the ruling, saying it will deny thousands of eligible Pennsylvania voters their constitutional right to vote.
“Today’s ruling is a travesty not just for those Pennsylvanians whose right to vote will be stripped away by this law but for all Pennsylvanians and all American citizens," Dermody said in a statement. "A threat to one person’s right to vote is a threat to us all."
State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) agreed.
“This law was never about preventing voter fraud," he said in a statement. "The state’s attorneys stipulated that there was no evidence of fraud and witness after witness presented details about the obstacles that they face in trying to comply with the law.
“Taking away a citizen’s right to vote and participate in a democracy is a serious matter. No one who is eligible to vote should be prevented from casting their ballot."
However, Judge Simpson decided that the state has surpassed its requirements to offer photo identification to those who need it and granted voters the ability to cast provisional ballots and prove their identity within six days. He also noted that some of those who testified for the plaintiffs would likely need to use absentee ballots to vote.
“(The plaintiffs) did an excellent job of ‘putting a face’ to those burdened by the voter ID requirement,” Simpson wrote in his decision. “At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for counsel.”
Thirty states have some sort of Voter ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and of those, 19 do not require a photo, six require a photo and five, including Pennsylvania, have strict photo requirements.
In June, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined county Controller Chelsa Wagner in challenging the law. Wagner, a Democrat, has endorsed efforts in the courts to keep the law from taking effect before the election and her office filed an amicus brief in the challenge to the law.
Controversy over the law flared in June when state Democrats criticized a comment from State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, about the newly enacted law.
Turzai's comment, which made its way to YouTube, was among several items he said had been accomplished on the Republican agenda. On the video, he says: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."
At the end of July, Dermody said the new law could prevent him from voting because his driver’s license states he is Frank J. Dermody. However, his birthname is Francis. Dermody, along with many others, has been flagged as possibly not having a valid photo ID.
He said Wednesday he hopes the law is overturned.
"I sincerely hope the Supreme Court will right this terrible wrong and will overturn this decision in time for the November elections," he said. "The commonwealth’s highest court should see what the rest of the nation so plainly does—that this law is a scam.
“We must remain vigilant, continue to fight and make the case that the right to vote is not just our most sacred as Americans but also our most fragile. We cannot allow partisan gamesmanship to trump American citizenship.”
Editor Heidi Dezayas contributed to this report.
Do you agree or disagree with the Commonwealth Court decision? Let us know what you think in the comments section.