Rule of Law

PA Voter ID Battle Lost, War Won

In Pennsylvania, election-integrity advocates lost a battle but won the war. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson today blocked implementation of Pennsylvania’s photo voter-identification law, but only for the upcoming election. The court rejected the request of voter ID opponents to find the Pennsylvania law to be held unconstitutional. Friction involving implementation, however, of the law in time for November’s election led the court to block the requirement.

Nevertheless, voters in Pennsylvania in the upcoming election will still be asked to show photo identification. If a voter, however, does not have photo identification, he or she will still be allowed to vote. In future elections, Pennsylvania voters must show valid photo identification.

Judge Simpson was constrained by the logic of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Two weeks ago, that court required Simpson to “make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternative identification cards.” At issue was whether or not PennDOT was effectively distributing the free cards. The Supreme Court required Judge Simpson to find essentially either perfect PennDOT implementation or “to enter a preliminary injunction.”

Anyone who has experienced Pittsburgh potholes in springtime knows about PennDOT effectiveness. And thus, Judge Simmons could not allow the law to go into full effect.

That’s the end of the good news for the vote-fraud deniers who opposed the law.

Incidentally, the lead plaintiff, Viviette Applewhite, claimed that she was unable to get photo identification.  The day after Judge Simpson ruled against her last month, Applewhite went out and got a photo ID. Like every other challenge brought to photo ID in every other case, Applewhite’s claims of disenfranchisement were actually litigation bluster.

Viviette Applewhite gets her free ID

The opinion, apart from the injunction, dismantles much of the spin used by voter ID opponents. Even the plaintiffs now concede “that parts of Act 18 (relating to proof of identification for absentee voting) do not cause injury and may be implemented. Therefore, they no longer seek a total ban on implementation of Act 18.”

That’s another way of saying that plaintiffs cried wolf. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that proof of identification for absentee voting was invalid, but now admits it is valid.

The plaintiffs also wanted Pennsylvania to stop educating the public about the new requirements. This claim reveals the crass partisan aims of voter ID litigation. The NAACP, the organization behind the lawsuit, didn’t want Pennsylvania to educate the public about the requirements of the new law because they fear that any information about new requirements to prove identity will dissuade certain voters from voting. The NAACP feared that some would hear the education campaign, but not hear that getting a free photo ID was easy.

The NAACP position merged with the aims of partisan electoral politics. Factual government speech about a new law might endanger the reelection of President Obama.

Thankfully, Judge Simpson refused to grant the NAACP the relief of keeping Pennsylvanians ignorant.

But the biggest loss for the NAACP was the court’s refusal to enjoin election officials from asking for photo identification: “As a result, I will not restrain election officials from asking for photo ID at the polls; rather, I will enjoin enforcement of those parts of Act 18 which directly result in disenfranchisement.”

This means that on Election Day, every single voter will be asked for photo identification in Pennsylvania. The culture of ignorance will begin to change. People will be put on notice that in future elections, they will need to obtain a free photo identification to establish they are who they say they are. And no longer will hundreds of American citizens be relegated to second-class economic status, unable to check into a hotel, rent a car, or fully participate in economic life because they lack photo ID.

Some fabulists have called photo ID the “new Jim Crow.” Unfortunately, these same people are content to have those without photo ID live in permanent economic segregation, unable to utilize many public accommodations. They reveal a great deal about themselves when they conjure up America’s darkest days. Today’s court decision goes a long way to ending those divisions between Americans.