On the face of it, the principle seems reasonable: In order to vote, people should have to show identification as a means to prevent voter fraud. Indeed, the law in Pennsylvania has long insisted on this for first-time voters -- and nobody thinks that unreasonable. The problem is that Republicans who passed a law for all voters to show ID at the polls have been two-faced.
The law they passed in March 2012 has only a passing regard for principle. In common with other election ID laws by Republicans around the country, its obvious purpose was to discourage voters who might be predisposed to favor Democrats -- poor people, elderly people, minorities, all of whom are much more likely to lack ID than other voters. If this wasn't blatant enough, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai unguardedly told fellow Republicans that the law would deliver Pennsylvania to Mitt Romney in the presidential election.
That political theory wasn't put to the test. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson initially held that the law did not do any harm to the right of people to vote, but the state Supreme Court, clearly worried about disenfranchisement, sent the case back for further review. Judge Simpson then suspended the law's implementation for the presidential election and the May primary.
So this week the issue returned to court before Judge Bernard McGinley, where the issues are largely the same. As it is clearly constitutional to ask for voter ID, the case will turn again on the extent to which IDs are readily available to those who need them. Some middle-class voters struggle to understand the problem; they live in a world where having ID is no big deal, but that is not the world many others live in -- as testimony offered in the first go-around of this case made clear.
As well as outlining the challenge of implementation, it would be helpful if the case for voter ID could be linked to some evidence that the law addresses an actual problem of people impersonating other people in order to vote. So far, no such evidence has been offered -- which is damning in its own way.
We can only hope that Commonwealth Court, on this second consideration, can supply some clarity to a case that has been tainted by political opportunism.