Pennsylvania Voter ID Challengers Lose Bid to Block Law

Pennsylvania’s voter photo-ID law was upheld and the Obama campaign challenged Ohio’s pre-election voting timetables, in two of a series of lawsuits in the run-up to the November presidential vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union and 10 voters in Pennsylvania today failed to overturn a rule that voters show approved photo identification at the polls. They didn’t prove voters would be disenfranchised by the law, Judge Robert E. Simpson in Harrisburg wrote.

In neighboring Ohio, the campaign of President Barack Obama asked a judge to equalize the time voters have to cast ballots before the election. Under state law, early voting for armed forces members and Americans living overseas ends three days later than for others.

Voter cases are also active in Texas, South Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin.

“It’s a presidential election year, and so people tend to care more about these kinds of disputes,” said Michael Dimino, a Widener University law professor.

Pennsylvania is one of nine states requiring photo IDs to vote. Its law became a test case in the voter-eligibility debate after a state analysis found as many as 9 percent of its electorate may be unable to vote for president.

The ACLU sued in May, saying the law unfairly burdens minorities, the elderly and the poor and might suppress voting.

The judge disagreed today in a 70-page opinion that sets the stage for an appeal to the state’s highest court.

‘Reasonable’ Requirement

“The photo ID requirement of Act 18 is a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life,” he wrote. “The commonwealth’s asserted interest in protecting public confidence in elections is a relevant and legitimate state interest sufficiently weighty to justify the burden.”

Pennsylvania has 20 Electoral College votes, and Ohio has 18. Together the states have 14 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

The Pennsylvania ID debate is getting heightened attention because of the state’s swing status, said Daniel Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University’s law school in Columbus.

Obama, a Democrat, won Pennsylvania with 55 percent of the vote in 2008. He won by 620,478 votes there, fewer than the number who, according to plaintiffs in the suit, might be kept from the polls on Nov. 6.

In Ohio, no Republican has ever won the presidency while losing the state. In 2008, Obama won it with 52 percent of the ballots cast.

Prior Law

Ohio previously allowed everyone to vote until the day before the election. A law signed by Republican Governor John Kasich created the division. Obama and Democrats sued last month seeking to overturn the law. Oral arguments on a court order blocking it were held today in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

“There is no fundamental right to in-person early voting,” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine, both Republicans, argued in court papers. Ohio has a rational basis for treating military and overseas voters differently from others, they said.

The curb on early voting for nonmilitary citizens allows local election boards to synchronize those votes with those at 9,800 polling places to prevent double-voting, Husted said.

Obama and Democrats say no distinction between otherwise-eligible voters justifies giving more time to one group than another.

Other States

Elsewhere, the U.S. Justice Department has blocked voter-ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, states that need permission from the government under the federal Voting Rights Act before changing election procedures because of their histories of violations.

A panel of three federal judges heard the Texas case in Washington last month. A hearing in South Carolina’s is scheduled later this month.

Wisconsin’s voter-ID law was declared unconstitutional by a state court judge in March. The state is appealing. In Florida, officials told a federal appeals court that they may seek to reverse a lower-court order blocking the enforcement of the state’s restrictions on voter-registration groups.

The Pennsylvania plaintiffs will appeal today’s decision, said David Gersch, a lawyer with the firm Arnold & Porter LLP.

“At trial, we demonstrated that there are about a million registered voters who lack the ID necessary to vote under Pennsylvania’s photo ID law,” Gersch said today in an e-mailed statement. “If the court’s decision stands, a lot of those people will not be able to vote in November.”

Acceptable ID

Pennsylvania’s law requires a driver’s license or other state-issued ID, or an acceptable alternative such as a military ID, to cast a ballot in the presidential election.

Backed by Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, the law enacted in March was attacked by Democrats as a tool for disenfranchising some voters.

The judge said the state offered credible evidence that steps before election will help educate voters and streamline the process of acquiring approved photo identification. Absentee voting, provisional ballots and judicial relief for those with special hardships make disenfranchisement less likely, Simpson said.

State officials said the law will deter in-person voter fraud, protect the integrity of elections and ensure public confidence in the election process.

There has never been an investigation, prosecution or confirmed incident of in-person voter fraud, the officials said in the trial.

Number Affected

Records show about 759,000 prospective voters lack a driver’s license and an alternative state ID, a number that may be as high as 1.5 million, David Burgess, a deputy Ohio secretary of state, testified during a week-long trial.

Secretary of State Carol Aichele said the 759,000 figure was hastily gathered and testified that the state anticipated 100,000 would lack proper ID.

The challengers failed to establish that greater injury will occur from refusing to temporarily bar the law than from blocking it, the Pennsylvania judge said.

A “deferential standard” should be employed to evaluate a challenge to the law, Simpson wrote, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 rejection of a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter-ID law.

Obama in 2008 won 83 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city. The new requirement may disqualify about 186,000 potential voters, almost 25 percent of the adult residents in the city, according to the state’s estimates.

The Pennsylvania case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330-md-2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg). The Ohio case is Obama for America v. Husted, 12-cv-00636, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE