Voter ID War Wages on in the Courts: Not Enough Justification to Support Curtailing Voting Rights

The Pennsylvania state legislature passed a law in early 2012 requiring all voters to present a photo ID at the polls. Viviette Applewhite, a 92-year-old woman who has voted in nearly every election since 1960, challenged the law in state court as unconstitutional; she is joined in bringing the case by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the Homeless Advocacy Project. The case, known as Applewhite v. Commonwealth, resulted in a preliminary injunction in September 2012 that lasted through the presidential election and the May 2013 primaries. Now, the trial court is hearing the issue again to consider a permanent injunction against the law. Lawyers for both sides are expected to make closing arguments this week.

The case is important for voters' rights in Pennsylvania as over one third of voters are unaware of the photo ID law and nearly million registered voters inaccurately believe they possess a valid ID. The onerous requirements disproportionately affect poor, elderly, young, Latino, and female voters, resulting in further disenfranchisement of those voters already disadvantaged at the polls. A recent survey found that nearly 600,000 active voters currently lack the required forms of identification. While the state has tried to make obtaining ID easier, there are nine counties with no office to issue ID and another two dozen or so that are open only two days a week. Thus, even if many of voters who currently lack ID will be able to eventually acquire it, there will undoubtedly remain those who cannot feasibly get an ID. This will effectively disenfranchise those citizens, taking away their fundamental right to vote.

The state ought to have a good reason to risk disenfranchising people, even if it turns out to be “only” thousands. Prevention of voter fraud if the oft cited justification. Yet, the state has explicitly denied any knowledge of past voter fraud and declined to argue that preventing voter fraud is a justification for the law. Check out the stipulation conceding that voter fraud does not justify the voter ID law here. Instead, the state argues that the law merely provides a confirmation of existing voter requirements and modernizes Pennsylvania elections. This explanation simply cannot justify risking disenfranchising otherwise eligible citizens. These laws are really just a clever political strategy. And they come at the expense of Viviette Applewhite countless others. Taking away the right to vote with little-to-no justification is not acceptable. We should all be outraged.