Six weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a wrongheaded ruling upholding that state’s new voter ID law. On appeal, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent the case back for further review. This time, the Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr., has arrived at a slightly more rational rationale. The decision he issued last Tuesday should greatly reduce the risk of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of registered Pennsylvania voters—those who happen not to drive, for example, or have not otherwise needed a state-issued photo identification card before this election cycle. Let’s be clear precisely which voters we are talking about: Poor voters. Elderly voters. Black and brown voters. Students. Voters who are ill or infirm. With Judge Simpson’s new ruling, these folks will not be forced to travel to state bureaucratic offices, simply to wait in line for hours, all for a card they will use only for one purpose – to exercise their right to vote.
National Public Radio’s Pam Fessler explored the difficulties of obtaining a voter I.D. card in the state, in this eye-opening piece last month, in which she accompanied two women battling the bureaucracy as they sought to obtain the proper identification in advance of Judge Simpson’s decision to invalidate the requirement that they do so. So what did Judge Simpson say? His ruling precludes election officials from requiring registered voters to show the new state photo identification card in order to get access to a regular ballot. That is because voter disenfranchisement was occurring — and would have continued to occur — had the new law been enforced in this election cycle. Like the law in South Carolina about which I wrote last week, the November contest is simply too close for comfort, he decided.