Voter ID law stumbles, but doesn’t fall, in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court today sent that state’s voter ID law back to a lower court to determine if, as alleged, the law disenfranchises voters.

It’s not the victory opponents of the law — similar to the one voters in Minnesota will decide in November — had hoped for, but it raises the profile of questions voiced there — and here — about how difficult it will be to get the photo IDs to vote at all.

In particular, the majority on the court cited the strict guidelines the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation adopted for providing identifications to would-be voters.

Why? Because of the federal ID laws that make getting an identification card difficult.


However, as implementation of the Law has proceeded, PennDOT – apparently for good reason – has refused to allow such liberal access. Instead, the Department continues to vet applicants for Section 1510(b) cards through an identification process that Commonwealth officials appear to acknowledge is a rigorous one. See N.T. at 690, 994. Generally, the process requires the applicant to present a birth certificate with a raised seal (or a document considered to be an equivalent), a social security card, and two forms of documentation showing current residency. See N.T. at 467, 690, 793.1 The reason why PennDOT will not implement the Law as written is that the Section 1510(b) driver’s license equivalent is a secure form of identification, which may be used, for example, to board commercial aircraft.

Here’s the full decision.

But in a dissent, Justice Debra McCloskey Todd criticized the court for not killing the law…


Despite impending near-certain loss of voting rights, despite the Commonwealth’s admitted inability thus far to fully implement Act 18 and its acceptance that, presently, “the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,” and despite the majority’s concession that the “most judicious remedy” in such circumstances would be to grant an injunction, the majority nonetheless allows the Commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and try once again to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application by November 6, 2012.

Justice Sheamus McCaffery went further


I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others, as was every single Justice on this esteemed Court. I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote. While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political.

The question of how people will get the IDs if Minnesota approves the question in November is unclear because the Legislature didn’t address the issue when it put the question before voters.

But the Pennsylvania situation makes clear that whatever ID process is followed, it not only will have to allow people to vote, it’ll also have to get them on an airplane.