Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson made the correct decision Tuesday by partially enjoining the state from enforcing its new voter ID law, effectively rendering it a nonissue for the highly contested general election next month.
Simpson’s ruling permits election workers to ask for photo ID at the polls, but they cannot turn away qualified voters who were unable to obtain one.
“An otherwise qualified elector who does not provide proof of identification may cast a ballot that shall be counted without the necessity of casting a provisional ballot,” Simpson said in his ruling.
A voter ID law may have merit, but only when done with much deliberation, and not pushed into effect months before one of the most divisive presidential elections in U.S. history.
The case proponents made for the law simply didn’t hold up. No one could clearly demonstrate that voter fraud is a problem in Pennsylvania, or at least not to the degree that the state should risk disenfranchising many lawful voters with an act that was still being repeatedly tweaked — after Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law — to patch up problems with its wording and directives.
Clearly, this legislation was not ready for the public.
Even if its proponents had the best of intentions, a dark cloud was cast over the purpose of this law when House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made his candid remark, shortly after the law’s passage, that it would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”
And as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald stated, this law was an unfunded mandate. The cost of training election workers to enforce the act fell squarely on the shoulders of local government.
Anyone who believes only illegal aliens would have been harmed by this law should have been at the July forum of the Pittsburgh Jewish Social Justice Roundtable at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill. There, those in attendance heard several shocking stories about longtime Pennsylvania residents — senior citizens, war veterans — who faced disenfranchisement because they could not prove who they were for reasons beyond their own control — courthouse fires, poor record keeping, bureaucratic incompetence, etc.
One of those ghost stories belonged to Joyce Block, an elderly Jewish resident of Bucks County whose only proof that her married name was authentic was her ketuba — which state officials didn’t accept. Go figure.
So Jewish voters could be affected by this law, but make no mistake, lower income and minority voters — among the most vulnerable groups in our society, and people less likely to have a valid driver’s license — were among those most at risk of losing the right to vote in this election.
As Jerome Mondesire, president of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, said in a prepared statement: “The ruling today is encouraging for all Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, it is a decision that should have been made a long time ago. With 35 days left until Election Day, the state must work with the NAACP and other leading organizations to limit voter confusion. We will work to ensure that poll workers do not wrongly enforce the law, and that all counties are monitored on Election Day.”
We hope the state and nonprofit organizations do work together. As we said at the top, there may indeed be merit in having a voter ID law. But the case for it needs to be made better than it was, and the law shouldn’t be enacted conveniently in time to sway an election.