Editorial | Let voter ID ruling be the last

January 20, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday.

In tossing out Pennsylvania’s oppressive voter ID law, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley stated the obvious: “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the voter ID law does not further this goal.”

Before the law was passed in March 2012, voters were already required to provide proof of residency, and poll workers were allowed to request ID if they doubted anyone’s qualifications. But that didn’t stop Republican legislators and Gov. Tom Corbett from enacting one of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID laws.

Democrats said the law, like several similar measures passed before the 2012 presidential election, was meant to frustrate their probable supporters. As if to prove them right, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, famously admitted that it was designed to help Republican nominee Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania.

Voter advocates argued that the law would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands because the types of identification deemed acceptable, like driver’s licenses and certain college IDs, were not readily available to many poor, elderly, disabled or young residents. In an attempt to address that concern, the state began issuing special voter ID cards, but shifting requirements for obtaining them only added to the confusion. So did the state’s puzzling ad campaign suggesting photo IDs were required at the polls even though the law remained tied up in court.

The state’s case disintegrated when it could not provide a single example of voter impersonation, the type of fraud the law supposedly addressed. Meanwhile, critics of the law had no trouble producing examples of legitimate, longtime voters who would be unjustly and needlessly hampered by the requirement.

McGinley was wise to throw out this thinly disguised attempt to suppress voting, and the Corbett administration should refrain from appealing his decision. Pennsylvania is better off putting this unseemly attack on constitutional rights in the past, alongside literacy tests and poll taxes.

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