Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruled Unconstitutional

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PA Voter ID Ruled Unconstitutional by Commonwealth Court.

This morning, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley struck down Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law as unconstitutional.  Judge McGinley’s condemnation of this law is clearly noted in his opinion.  He said, in part,

“[The Voter ID Law is] invalid and unconstitutional on its face as the provision and issuance of compliant identification does not comport with liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote….

Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal.”

And most powerfully in my opinion:

“The right to vote, fundamental in Pennsylvania, is irreplaceable, necessitating its protection before any deprivation occurs. Deprivation of the franchise is neither compensable nor reparable by after-the-fact legal remedies, necessitating injunctive and declaratory relief.”

You can read a copy of the full opinion on the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia’s website. I am so pleased to see this decision.  I have followed this bill since it’s outset. In 2011, as President of Pennsylvania NOW I wrote about some of the problems with the law before it was enacted; this blog includes a copy of the letter I sent to members of the House State Government Committee detailing problems with the law.

Then after it was enacted in 2012, I was asked to testify in Commonwealth Court about the problems I observed in people attempting to obtain a Voter ID.   I told the Court what I had observed at the PennDOT licensing center in Pleasant Gap regarding problems in obtaining a photo id. These problems included lack of timely public transportation to and from the facility, lack of knowledge of the staff about the voter id law, inaccurate paperwork, long lines, and how women changing their names on their drivers’ licenses could be disenfranchised.

I also mentioned that I had used a photo id that did not meet the state’s Voter ID Law guidelines. Yet, it was accepted without question by the poll workers when I went to vote in the primary during the so-called “soft roll-out period.”

You can read more about that testimony and how accessing a photo id can specifically block access to the ballot for married women in a blog I wrote on this issue last year.

My thanks go to the legal team put together by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Advancement Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter. They successfully argued over the last 18 months that this law was and is unconstitutional under Article I. Section 5 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution.

But the battle may not be over.  Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D) argued in favor of the law before the Commonwealth Court.  News reports indicate that she hasn’t yet decided whether or not to appeal Judge McGinley’s decision to the Supreme Court.

Your voice needs to be heard.  And it can be.  Right after the decision was announced, my colleague, Michael Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress, created a MoveOn petition to AG Kane asking her to let the decision stand and not appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  I signed and commented that:

I am one of the people who testified in Commonwealth Court in 2012 about the problems I observed in people attempting to obtain a Voter ID and about my testing the knowledge of poll workers in correctly interpreting the law (they accepted an invalid photo id that did not meet the requirements of the law during the testing period before the law was enjoined; I used it again at another election and once again, they told me it was valid).

Don’t play games with our elections. As Judge McGinley stated, “the law is “invalid and unconstitutional on its face as the provision and issuance of compliant identification does not comport with liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote.” Let his ruling stand.

You too can add your voice.  Please do so.  Thanks.

Update 5 pm January 17, 2014

Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a press statement at 4 pm today in response to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling this morning. Here’s what it says,

“I respect Judge McGinley’s very thoughtful decision in this matter. The Office of Attorney General will continue to defend the rights of all Pennsylvanians and we will work with all related Commonwealth agencies to carry out this decision and ensure that all voters have access to free and fair elections.”

Q&A regarding Attorney General Kane’s position:

1. How does this decision affect Attorney General Kane’s previous concerns?

Attorney General Kane’s previous concern and legal analysis mirrored the concern and ultimate decision of the courts in that implementation may not be sufficient to ensure free and fair elections.

2. What happens now in terms of an appeal?

The Office of Attorney General is awaiting direction from its client.”

Trial on the Constitutionality of PA’s Voter ID Law Scheduled

In 2011, the Pennsylvania General Assembly introduced a discriminatory Voter ID law that went into effect in the spring of 2012.  At the time of the introduction of this bill, I was President of Pennsylvania NOW and blogged about this law on the Pennsylvania NOW blog website.

In 2012, the new law was challenged in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.  Plaintiffs in the voter ID case are represented by the Public Interest Center of Philadelphia, Advancement Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Washington, DC law firm of Arnold & Porter.

The initial hearing held the week of July 31, focused on the lack of time available to implement the law.  I one of the people who testified at this hearing of the problems obtaining a photo id that I observed at the local PennDOT driver’s license center.

Initially Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld the law as timely.  It was then appealed to the PA Supreme Court and the majority of this court remanded the case back to Judge Simpson telling him that unless he could affirm that no one would be adversely impacted by the new law, he would have to enjoin (delay) implementation.

Which is exactly what happened.  So in the November 2012 election, people were asked, but not required to show a photo id.  As a matter of protest, I was one of many who refused to present my id on November 6, 2012 because of the disparate effect that this law would have on low-income people, non-drivers, the elderly, people of color, students, and people with disabilities.

After Judge Simpson enjoined (stopped) the implementation of the law, the plaintiffs filed a second complaint alleging that the law is unconstitutional due to its disparate impact on women, people with disabilities, and people of color.  The initial filing of these arguments occurred in December, 2012.  This morning, Judge Simpson announced that a full hearing on the constitutionality of the law would commence on July 15, 2013; he expects the hearing to last about one week.

Meanwhile he also announced that by March 21, 2013 he will decide whether or not to modify the injunction he wrote last fall.  If he does not modify it, the law will be in full effect for the Primary on May 21, long before the constitutionality of this law is determined.

For more information on this announcement, click here (Associated Press) and here (ACLU of PA).