Voter ID nixed: The sheer weight of evidence buries a bad law

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If ever a court opinion clarified a public issue, it was the one handed down by Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley last week on the law requiring Pennsylvanians to show photo ID at the polls when they vote. What seemed to many to be an unconstitutional affront to a basic right was confirmed as such by the judge.

As welcome as this ruling was, the manner in which it was decided was especially persuasive. This was a ruling with the weight to end a long and contentious argument.

Previously, defenders of the law were free to argue that the voter ID requirement was common sense — that to do anything in today’s world people must show ID and therefore it must be easy. 

That smug assumption about people less well off — minorities, the poor, the elderly — evaporated under the hot light of the evidence. Judge McGinley found that the voters disenfranchised by the requirement were not a trifling figure; they numbered in the “hundreds of thousands.”

It’s little wonder. While crediting the government with good faith, Judge McGinley nevertheless painted a damning picture of its bureaucratic efforts to implement the law. Those who needed ID had to travel to one of just 71 centers in order to get it (five were in Philadelphia). Nine counties had no center at all; another nine were open just one day of the week. Half of Pennsylvania was left without ID centers operating five days of week.

If you were poor or old and didn’t have public transportation in a rural county, good luck getting ID. Even if people jumped through all the hoops erected to limit access to the polls, it was in the service of a faulty idea — as the court noted, in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare and the commonwealth could cite no evidence for it.

The Corbett administration should quit while it is behind and the people are ahead. This law has been buried by the evidence.


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