The Corner

Pennsylvania Voter-ID Decision a Partial Victory

Both sides came away with something from today’s court decision on Pennsylvania’s law requiring photo-ID at the polls. The court ruled that the law is constitutional and will be implemented for future elections, but Judge Robert Simpson issued a partial preliminary injunction against the part of the law that wouldn’t have allowed the counting of ballots cast by voters who didn’t show an ID.

Voters will be asked for ID when they show up to vote this November, but if they don’t have one their votes will be counted anyway. Judge Simpson, acting on orders from the state’s supreme court to reexamine his August ruling upholding the law, declared he didn’t believe the state could implement the requirement in the five weeks before the election without possibly disenfranchising some voters.

The law, which was passed in 2010, was partially implemented in the state’s April primary — a so-called “soft launch” — with almost no difficulty. But Simpson responded to testimony from people who encountered bureaucratic bungling, long waits in lines, and general confusion in their search for a state-issued ID.

But many of the original claims by liberal groups fighting the law proved to be spurious. The ACLU’s lead plantiff, Viviette Applewhite, told the judge over the summer that she couldn’t get an ID because her purse had been stolen. But on August 16, the day after Judge Simpson originally ruled in favor of the ID law, Applewhite took a bus down to the local DMV and got a photo ID within 20 minutes. “Like every other challenge brought to photo ID in every other case, Applewhite’s claims of disenfranchisement were actually litigation bluster,” wrote J. Christian Adams, a former Justice Department lawyer whose book Injustice criticizes the legal strategies of opponents of laws requiring photo-ID.

“Pennsylvania was handicapped in implementing its new law by the shortness of time remaining before the election,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation scholar and former member of the Federal Election Commission. “The court simply found that the state could not effectively implement the ID requirement in only a month. The law is still in place and remains valid.” Indeed, the provisions of the law strengthening protections against absentee-ballot fraud — the most common form of ballot fraud in Pennsylvania — will be in force this November.

The courts are likely to ultimately uphold the substance of all the voter-ID laws currently being challenged in the courts. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that states have the constitutional right to pass such laws to protect the integrity of elections — with the opinion written by liberal stalwart John Paul Stevens.

But the major goal of the liberal groups challenging the laws is simply to delay full implementation until after the crucial 2012 presidential election. In that, they have often succeeded. In addition to Pennsylvania, two judges in Wisconsin found that state’s voter-ID law unconstitutional. The state’s supreme court decided last week not to expedite the case, making it impossible to implement the law this November despite a history of voter fraud in Milwaukee and other communities.

The Obama Justice Department has also entered the picture, raising objections under the Voting Rights Act against state-ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. Those laws are ultimately likely to pass muster with the courts, but the objections make it unlikely they will be in force for this election.

The election is only five weeks away, and some 10,000 lawyers in both parties are planning to closely monitor the results. Lawsuits are inevitable, battles over provisional battles almost certain, fraud is feared, and if the election is very close, don’t be surprised if the winner isn’t known for days — or longer. After all, it was only a dozen years ago that the Bush v. Gore recount case in Florida delayed resolution of that election until mid-December.


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