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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Pennsylvania Judge|Tosses Voter ID Law

(CN) - A Pennsylvania judge struck down the state's voter ID law Friday, saying the fundamental right to vote "will be - and indeed already has been - denied or substantially and unnecessarily burdened" by the law.

In his 50-page ruling, Judge Bernard McGinley of the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg called the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls "a legislative disconnect from reality."

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

The ruling is a win for opponents of the law, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, who decried it as a tactic by the Republican-led state Legislature to suppress the votes of poor and minority voters, who may lack identification and are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed the ID requirement into law in March 2012, and Republicans lawmakers defended it as an attempt to prevent voter fraud.

But Judge McGinley said the state failed to show any evidence of voter fraud, though there are "hundreds of thousands of qualified voters who lack compliant ID."

Those voters do not have "liberal access" to photo ID, McGinley wrote, because Pennsylvania "imposed extra-statutory criteria to qualify for [Department of State] IDs and failed to accurately educate electors."

As an example, he cited the law's requirement that staff at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation verify an ID applicant's registered status against a database maintained by the Department of State. Because that database is "outdated, flawed, and riddled with inaccuracies or incomplete information," McGinley wrote, the verification requirement "unreasonably delays, if not outright denies, an elector's access to compliant photo ID."

Similarly, he saw "no reasonable basis for the ID to contain an expiration date," as the law required.

"Petitioners established a clear right to relief from enforcement of the photo ID provisions in the Voter ID Law," he concluded. "The right to vote, fundamental in Pennsylvania, is irreplaceable, necessitating its protection before any deprivation occurs."

The same court blocked the state from enforcing the law before the November 2012 election.

Corbett's general counsel said the governor has not decided whether to appeal.

"We continue to evaluate the opinion and will shortly determine whether post-trial motions are appropriate," attorney James Schultz told the Wall Street Journal.

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