Our opinion: An important victory in the battle against voter suppression


One of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation was struck down by a state judge in Pennsylvania Friday morning.

In his ruling, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote the GOP-sponsored legislation "unreasonably burdens the right to vote."

"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," wrote McGinley.

As the Pennsylvania law was written, to vote, a voter would have needed to present photo identification, including, but not limited to, a drivers license, passport, military ID, certain students ID and certain nursing home IDs.

"The legal challenge to Pennsylvania's law was filed by the (ACLU) with 93-year-old Vivietter Applewhite as the lead plaintiff," noted NPR. "She's a longtime voter, born in Philadelphia, who wouldn't be able to get the ID she would need under the new rules because she doesn't have a birth certificate or other key identifying documents, such as a non-driving license."

While Republicans claimed the law was needed to prevent voter fraud, during a 12-day trial, administration officials were unable to present any examples of voter impersonation.

As Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Gazette "Once the Commonwealth admitted they couldn't identify any of the fraud supposedly prevented by the voter ID law, the act was plainly revealed to be nothing more than a voter suppression tool."

This is true across the nation. When asked to present proof of voter fraud, proponents of voter ID laws are able to present only a handful of cases, almost infinitesimal when compared to the millions of people who vote.

Now square the 10 or 20 or 30 cases of voter fraud supporters of voter ID are able to offer against the thousands of people who would be disenfranchised under many of the voter ID laws currently in place. It simply is not fair and the laws are a violation of our Constitutional rights.

Pennsylvania state officials have not yet indicated whether they will appeals McGinley ruling, but in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voted ID law, rejecting claims it was too burdensome.

But McGinley concluded the SCOTUS opinion held that "the provision of photo ID 'must comport with liberal access.' The voter ID law lacks this requisite mechanism."

The ACLU claimed more than 400,000 people would have been barred from voting under the requirement, but proponents of the bill maintained there were provisions in place to make sure anyone who wanted a legitimate ID could get one. While the law was put on hold in advance of the 2012 election, most people who attempted to use those provisions to obtain an ID did not receive one by Nov. 6, 2012.

Democrats maintained the law's intent was to limit the ability of a vital portion of its constituency -- minorities, the elderly and college-aged residents -- to cast their votes.

Unfortunately, voter ID laws have been popping up all over the nation, especially in states where Republicans control the statehouse but are in danger of losing -- or have already lost -- their majorities. To date, 34 states have adopted some kind of ID law.

Fortunately, a bi-partisan pair of representatives in Washington, D.C., have introduced the Voting Rights Act Amendment of 2014, which is in response to a SCOTUS ruling that knocked out key provisions of the Voting Rights Act last year.

Ari Berman, writing for The Nation, synopsized the bill:

"States with five violations of federal law to their voting changes over the past 15 years will have to submit future election changes for federal approval," he wrote. "This new formula would currently apply to Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Local jurisdictions would be covered if they commit three or more violations or have one violation and 'persistent, extremely low minority turnout' over the past 15 years."

While it's not perfect -- it was watered down to garnish Republican support -- it's a step in the right direction.

The argument that is often proffered in support of voter ID laws -- you have to show ID to buy beer or cigarettes or cash a check, so what's the big deal? -- doesn't hold water, because none of those are rights guaranteed by the Constitution. To assert a similarity between buying a six-pack of beer and exercising your right at the ballot box is simply absurd and needs to be put to rest.

Friday's decision will hopefully be upheld if appealed, and will no doubt give a moral uplift to individuals and agencies fighting burdensome ID laws in other states. These laws are nothing more than a cynical attempt to keep people out of the polls. It just seems that some people -- read Republicans -- can't deal with the fact that they are gradually losing popular opinion and will do anything underhanded to regain their position of power. We should do everything that's aboveboard and honest to prevent them from subverting our right to choose who represents us in statehouses around the nation and in Washington, D.C.


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