The photo ID provisions of the Pennsylvania voter ID law ‘violate the
fundamental right to vote,’ the judge wrote, but he found no evidence
it sought to intentionally disenfranchise Democratic voters.
By Warren Richey
WASHINGTON — A Pennsylvania judge on Friday struck down a key portion
of the state’s voter ID law and permanently enjoined officials from
enforcing the election-day requirement that voters show ID before
being allowed to cast a ballot.
Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley said the state’s voter ID
Law was intended to provide free and liberal access to an ID for those
who lacked the requisite identification.
Instead of free and easy access, the judge said, state officials
created a burdensome and confusing regime that resulted in de facto
disenfranchisement of qualified Pennsylvania voters.
“This Court holds that the photo ID provisions of the Voter ID Law
violate the fundamental right to vote and unnecessarily burden the
hundreds of thousands of electors who lack compliant photo ID,” Judge
McGinley wrote in his 50-page opinion.
The judge said he found no evidence that the voter ID law was passed
by Pennsylvania’s Republican-majority legislature with the intention
of disenfranchising certain voters who might be more inclined to vote
for Democratic candidates.
Critics of the law cited comments reportedly made by the House
majority leader that the voter ID requirement would allow Mitt Romney
to carry Pennsylvania over Barak Obama in the 2012 presidential race.
(Mr. Obama won Pennsylvania on his way to reelection in November
“There is little dispute that the burdens of the Voter ID Law imposes
weigh most heavily on the most vulnerable members of society,” the
judge said. But he said such a disproportionate impact was not enough
to prove a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Challengers to the law must also present evidence of purposeful
discrimination, the judge said. “The Court has been presented with and
finds no evidence of such purposeful discrimination,” McGinley said.
Critics of the law praised Judge McGinley’s decision as a safeguard to
the democratic process.
“This ruling is a monumental victory for those who believe that in a
democracy elections should be free, fair, and accessible to all
people,” Penda Hair of the Advancement Project, a civil rights
organization based in Washington and Los Angeles, said in a statement.
“Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens who lack one of the
limited forms of acceptable photo ID can now cast their ballots
without burdensome obstacles,” she added.
The Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia, and the
Washington law firm Arnold & Porter filed suit challenging
Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law.
They charged that it threatened to disenfranchise low-income and
elderly voters who did not have the required ID and lacked the means
to obtain it.
Various experts estimated that between 320,000 to 1.3 million
Pennsylvania voters were without required photo IDs. The Voter ID Law
mandated that the state would provide “liberal access” to anyone
Judge McGinley said the state failed to provide “liberal access.”
“As a constitutional prerequisite, any voter ID law must contain a
mechanism for ensuring liberal access to compliant photo IDs so that
the requirement of photo ID does not disenfranchise valid voters,” the
But the resulting mechanism to provide free ID was too burdensome, the
“In the majority of its applications, the Voter ID Law renders
Pennsylvania’s fundamental right to vote so difficult to exercise as
to cause de facto disenfranchisement,” he said.
Despite the large number of citizens lacking ID, officials had
distributed only 17,000 IDs for voting, he said. The judge added that
for many citizens — those lacking a driver’s license — obtaining an ID
to vote would be a substantial ordeal.
Pennsylvania has 71 offices where such IDs are issued, five of them in
Philadelphia. But there are no such offices in 9 counties, and the
offices in 13 counties are only open two days a week, the judge said.
McGinley also noted that Pennsylvania officials had failed to show any
evidence of a problem with voter fraud that would justify the new law.
He said that offering those without a photo ID a chance to cast a
provisional ballot did not save the statute because provisional
ballots are only available to prospective voters who are deemed to be
The judge said it was “difficult, if not impossible” to prove one’s
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the
Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” Judge McGinley wrote.
“Further, a substantial threat still exists to the franchise of
hundreds of thousands of registered electors, and uncounted qualified
He said the threat was continuing more than a year after the initial
litigation despite efforts by Pennsylvania officials to educate voters
and provide compliant ID to those who lack it.
The judge said his injunction blocking the Voter ID Law would preserve
the integrity of Pennsylvania elections. “By contrast, denying the
requested relief would only add to the chaos in implementation and
inaccurate messaging that has ensued since the statute’s enactment,”