New Castle News

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October 4, 2012

Our Opinion: State’s Voter ID law shelved for general election

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law is on hold for now. But you haven’t heard the last of it.

A Commonwealth Court judge’s ruling this week essentially delays implementation of the measure until at least next year. For this fall’s general election, polling officials can ask voters for ID, but they can’t deny access to those without it.

It’s important to note what this week’s ruling is — and is not. The legal action pursued against the Voter ID law — which requires an accepted form of photo identification before casting a ballot — was an injunction to halt implementation of the measure this year.

Courts were not being asked to declare the law unconstitutional, although two state Supreme Court justices indicated they were willing to go that far in an earlier decision. Instead, this week’s order by Judge Robert Simpson is designed to give the state more time to ensure it has a system in place that allows all citizens the ability to vote without burdensome restrictions.

Here is the key legal point in all of this: For citizens, voting is a right, not a privilege. Although the commonwealth has a duty and obligation to protect the integrity of polling places and to prevent fraud, it cannot do so in a manner that’s arbitrary or hampers access to legitimate voters.

The difficulties that can be encountered in obtaining a photo identification may strike some people as strange. Anyone with a driver’s license automatically has identification.

But in urban areas, many citizens don’t have such licenses, relying instead on public transportation. Then there are issues with individuals who have difficulty obtaining birth certificates or other documentation, even though they are citizens who ought to have full and free access to their polling places.

The commonwealth could appeal Simpson’s ruling to the state Supreme Court, but that panel already issued a previous decision which makes success with any move unlikely. We think the Corbett administration’s best move right now is to consider this a lesson learned, and begin work on salvaging this measure — assuming that’s possible.

Sometime after the November election, we fully expect critics of the law to pursue additional action designed to have it declared unconstitutional. That could happen in both state and federal courts. For the Voter ID law to survive, state officials must ensure its language does not block access to those legitimately entitled to vote.

Meanwhile, we think there’s a larger lesson here about politics and common sense. For those who think voter fraud is a problem, there are methods available — mainly at the time of registration — that could minimize concerns. We presume a nonpartisan effort to protect the integrity of polling places could receive widespread support and eliminate controversy.

That didn’t happen here. Instead, Pennsylvania wound up with a divisive battle that has accomplished nothing.

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