Public Safety & Justice

Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Controversial Voter ID Law

January 17, 2014

By Karen Langley

A Pennsylvania judge has found the state's voter ID law unconstitutional.

According to the ruling from Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, the requirement to present an acceptable form of identification when voting in person "unreasonably burdens the right to vote."

The requirement was challenged in court after Republican legislators passed it and Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law by in March 2012.

A group of state Senate Democrats hailed the ruling as a victory for fair elections and said they hoped the Corbett administration would not fight the decision through appeals.

"They've gone beyond where they already should have gone on this in terms of using resources," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. "They shouldn't spend another penny on this."

The costs to defend the law in court as well as the state's expenditures on posters and ads to explain the law _ even when it wasn't in effect _ have been a frequent complaint of Democrats. Other opponents of the law also were pleased.

Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and one of the lead attorneys for the challengers, wrote in an email: "Once the Commonwealth admitted they couldn't identify any of the fraud supposedly prevented by the voter ID law, the act was plainly revealed to be nothing more than a voter suppression tool."

Republicans saw it differently.

In a post on Twitter, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said the judge had disregarded U.S. Supreme Court precedent "in throwing out common sense voter ID law supported by a vast majority of Pennsylvanians."

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law, rejecting claims it was too burdensome.

Pennsylvania state GOP Chairman Rob Gleason agreed.

"The overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians support a way to protect their right to vote and combat voter fraud," he said in a statement. "While I am extremely disappointed with today's decision, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania will continue to serve as a leading advocate for policies that ensure a fair right to vote for all Pennsylvanians."

Corbett administration officials could not be reached for comment. In his ruling, Judge McGinley wrote that the law poses "a substantial threat" to hundreds of thousands of qualified voters. "Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," the decision reads. Pennsylvania had moved to make acceptable identification more easily available, but the law's challengers argued this was not enough.

(c)2014 Pittsburg Post-Gazette

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