During the 2012 presidential election I accompanied some canvassers going door to door in Philadelphia. Their aim was to remind people in this pivotal swing state to vote and to vote Democrat. Again and again, the big concern among the folks opening their doors was the state’s new and very strict voter-ID law, which required voters to provide a government-issued picture ID. The law would have made it impossible for hundreds of thousands—some say 750,000—of people to vote, most of them likely to vote Democratic. Not even government-issued welfare cards and military identification cards were acceptable. Plenty of older Philadelphians, many of them black, do not even have a birth certificate.
Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, signed this cynical law in March 2012, alleging it would prevent voter fraud. “We need to ensure that our elections are fair,” he argued, though the state had witnessed precious few incidents of voter fraud. Democrats complained that the law disenfranchised minorities and the poor. A last-minute ruling blocked Pennsylvania’s law from taking effect in the November 2012 elections, but kept it on the books. The Obama campaign called it a “costly bill to address a non-existent problem”.
On January 17th a Commonwealth state judge agreed. “Disenfranchising voters through no fault of the voter himself is plainly unconstitutional,” wrote Judge Bernard McGinley (in reference to the state constitution, not the US constitution). Not only was the law was “fraught with illegalities and dubious authority”, but also Mr McGinley found that the state’s $5m campaign to explain the law to voters was full of inaccuracies. The ruling comes after 18 months of litigation.