Pennsylvania Supreme Court Wipes Out Pro Voter ID Decision but Declines to Block Law [View all]
Last month, a Pennsylvania trial judge upheld that state’s Voter ID law, in an opinion that relied at least in part on Nineteenth Century precedent which claimed that vote suppressing laws may be permissible to protect against ‘rogues,’ ‘strumpets,’ and ‘wandering arabs.’ Today, the state supreme court vacated that order, noting that the law is not living up to its own promises of ensuring voters will have access to ID:
he Law contemplates that the primary form of photo identification to be used by voters is a Department of Transportation (PennDOT) driver’s license or the non-driver equivalent provided under Section 1510(b) of the Vehicle Code. Furthermore, the Law specifically requires that – notwithstanding provisions of Section 1510(b) relating to the issuance and content of the cards – PennDOT shall issue them at no cost . . . . As such, the Law establishes a policy of liberal access to Section 1510(b) identification cards.
However, as implementation of the Law has proceeded, PennDOT – apparently for good reason – has refused to allow such liberal access. Instead, the Department continues to vet applicants for Section 1510(b) cards through an identification process that Commonwealth officials appear to acknowledge is a rigorous one. Generally, the process requires the applicant to present a birth certificate with a raised seal (or a document considered to be an equivalent), a social security card, and two forms of documentation showing current residency. The reason why PennDOT will not implement the Law as written is that the Section 1510(b) driver’s license equivalent is a secure form of identification, which may be used, for example, to board commercial aircraft.
The Department of State has realized, and the Commonwealth parties have candidly conceded, that the Law is not being implemented according to its terms. . . . Overall, we are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect within a relatively short timeframe and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless in light of the serious operational constraints faced by the executive branch. Given this state of affairs, we are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though we have no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.