In a defeat for voting rights advocates, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld the state’s right-wing voter ID law, which prevents 750,000 voters from casting ballots next November.
Though the right-wing backers of the voter ID law were not able to cite even one case of voter impersonation in Pennsylvania, the judge said he “didn’t rule on the full merits of the case,” but limited his considerations to “whether it was a proper exercise of the legislature’s authority.”
Originally, Republicans had claimed that the motivation for their voter ID law was the desire to prevent election fraud.
Their main argument before the judge, however, was that lawmakers properly exercised their latitude to make election laws when they chose to require voters to show “widely available” forms of photo ID.
The AFL-CIO issued a statement condemning the ruling. “It’s crystal clear who is behind these and why they want them passed,” the federation said. “The Republican Majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives illustrated that so directly – saying that the voter ID law ‘is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.'”
The AFL-CIO said the laws are being pushed “for partisan reasons to disenfranchise particular groups of voters. They are cynical and wrong, and they undermine our democracy.”
According to a study by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, one in ten eligible voters – overwhelmingly the elderly, minorities, students, and new citizens – lack a government-issued photo ID and could be disenfranchised under these new voter suppression laws.
Given this, the federation said, “The judge’s ruling that disenfranchisement in Pennsylvania is neither ‘immediate’ or ‘inevitable’ defies reality. The ruling must be reversed on appeal.”
Voting rights advocates plan to appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will likely issue its own ruling before the November election. There is currently an even 3-3 split between Democrats and Republicans on the court, the 7th member, Republican Joan Orie Melvin, is under suspension because of a corruption scandal.
Since Simpson ruled to uphold the law, Democrats will need one crossover vote to win a majority and strike down the law. Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a moderate Republican, is considered as likely to cross over and side with Democrats.