Pennsylvania Voter ID Law: Why the Court Must Strike it Down


On September 13, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on the lower court's denial of an injunction of the state voter ID Law, considered one of the most controversial voter ID laws in the country. The constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania guarantees its citizens the right to vote, pursuant to Article 1, sec. V.  

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, in denying the injunction, increases Pennsylvania’s importance as a battleground state, and its electoral votes.

The result of the Commonwealth decision stifled the fundamental rights of many of the elderly, college students of voting age, and minorities in obtaining an acceptable identification in a short period of time, given the barriers of transportation and producing acceptable identification in order to obtain a Voter ID. During oral arguments, Justice Seamus McCaffery responded to a comment by fellow Justice Michael Eakin, on Justice McCaffery's questioning state lawyers on the lack of evidence of voter fraud. When Justice Eakin, conceded that there was no evidence presented during oral argument by the state, Justice McCaffery specifically commented the requirement for identification as set forth in the Voter ID law unconstitutional. 

In his ruling, Judge Simpson noted he was relying on the state officials to ensure a majority residents would obtain proper identification. But as noted in a Philadelphia Inquirer article by Patrick Kerkstra, reliance on the speculated actions of election officials does not take into account the day-to-day life of those Philadelphians who will be impacted by the voter ID Law and the real barriers in obtaining the documentation needed which they would face.

The state constitution states specifically, “elections shall be free and equal; and now power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage. Anything required outside of what is in the Pennsylvania constitution, other than the name and address of the prospective voter, is stifling. The requirement of voter identification is a solution to a problem, purported by the court and the parties’ counsel, which does not exist, and silences the political voices of many Philadelphians.

To take away the precious gift of voting disenfranchises specific voting blocks. The state constitution is clear in word and purpose, ensuring citizens of this state with voting rights. The case now rests in the hands of six justices, evenly split down political lines. The question is whether the justices will continue to allow elections to be free and equal pursuant to the intent of the framers of the state constitution. Or will the right to vote come with a cost.

Since the issuance of the original commonwealth constitution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court referred the case back to the commonwealth court on the feasibility of ensuring available alternative forms of identification to commonwealth citizens.