Pennsylvania’s voter ID law got debated in the state Supreme Court today. Despite the fact that the state admits there have been no recent prosecutions or even investigations of in-person voter fraud, the state passed a restrictive voter ID law that critics say could disenfranchise up to 750,000 eligible voters in a state with few options besides in-person voting on Election Day.
The law requires potential voters to show poll workers valid photo identification from a state-issued driver’s license, a PennDOT-issued ID, a U.S. passport, military ID, government employee ID or photo ID with an expiration date from an accredited Pennsylvania college or licensed care facility.
Pennsylvania isn’t alone in the new voter ID requirement. Republicans in more than a dozen states have recently advanced tougher voter identification requirements. But Pennsylvania’s is among the toughest of the crop.
The court must determine whether such a hurdle is a threat to the right and ability to vote. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People plans to rally this morning at Thomas Paine Plaza on Broad Street against the law.
A Commonwealth Court Judge has already ruled that the voter ID law can go forward. Right now there are 6 sitting Justices on the state Supreme Court, with one other recused amid a bribery scandal. If the Justices deadlock 3-3, the lower court ruling would hold. So the barrier to victory is steep for opponents of the law.
Recently, opponents to voter suppression laws have acquitted themselves well in court striking down several of the more pernicious pieces of legislation designed to make voting more burdensome for traditionally Democratic communities. Victories in Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Colorado and Ohio have removed many of those burdens around early voting, ill-conceived voter purges, minority-disenfranchising redistricting, voter registration drives and even voter ID laws. But because the Justice Department did not intervene in the Pennsylvania case, and because the state is not covered under Section 5 pre-clearance rules of the Voting Rights Act, the burden of proof weighs heavier on the challengers.
They have contended that voting is a fundamental right, and that the voter ID law creates a substantial barrier for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to exercise that right. David Gersch, the lawyer who argued before the state Supreme Court today, put that number as anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 citizens. The state countered that the legislature exercised appropriate authority over elections, without more far-reaching claims about fighting the non-existent scourge of voter fraud. However, John Knorr of the state Attorney General’s office did say today that voter ID “is simply a means to establish that you are who you say you are and that you are indeed a registered voter.”
Knorr also claims that most Pennsylvanians can easily obtain a voter ID, which has been questioned on numerous occasions by the challengers. Indeed, Think Progress determined that acquiring proper ID could take up to 20 hours of work and two trips to state DMV offices, many of which are only open once a week.
The court can rule at any time after today’s hearing. I would expect them to proceed quickly, within the next couple weeks.