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Pennsylvania Judge Bars Voter-ID law for 2012 Election

December 3rd, 2012 No comments

By: *Christopher King

Blog Category: The Economics of Discrimination

On October 2, 2012, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson granted a preliminary injunction in Applewhite v. Commonwealth,[1] thus, putting on hold a law passed by the Pennsylvania legislature earlier this year, requiring Pennsylvania voters to produce photo identification at the polls in order to vote.  Originally, Judge Simpson had denied the plaintiffs’ application for a preliminary injunction.[2]  The plaintiffs, however, appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who voted to vacate the judge’s order and remanded the case for further review.[3] In its decision, the Court asked the judge to assess the availability of state-issued photo ID, and wrote that the law should be temporary blocked if the judge found that there were voters who would be disenfranchised because of the difficulty in obtaining a photo ID prior to the November general election.[4]

 

In his October 2nd ruling, Judge Simpson accepted the petitioners’ argument and said that it was logistically impossible to make IDs available to everyone who needed one before the November general election.[5]  Judge Simpson ruled that, while election officials can still request to see a voter’s ID on Election Day, voters are no longer required to show ID in order to cast a regular ballot.[6]  The law as adopted had only allowed for a voter without the required ID to cast a provisional ballot, and for that ballot to be counted only if the voter returned with the proper photo documentation within six days of the election.[7]

 

The idea of producing identification in order to vote is something that strikes most people as a reasonable requirement.  After all, we need a photo ID to get on an airplane, to enter a number of governmental buildings, or even to buy Sudafed at the drug store.  Supporters of voter-ID laws maintain that the intent of these measures is to ensure that each registered voter is who he says he is and to prevent fraud by persons trying to cast a ballot in someone else’s name.[8]  Again, it seems reasonable enough, so why has there been so much vocal opposition to voter-ID laws?

 

For starters, a look at the history of voter-ID laws shows that, before 2006, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote.[9]  Prior to the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American President, only two states had implemented photo identification requirements for voters.[10]  In 2011 alone, thirty-four states introduced legislation that would require its citizens to show photo identification in order to vote.[11]  Aside from Rhode Island, all voter-ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-controlled legislatures.[12]

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, 11% of American citizens, and an even greater percentage of low-income and minority citizens, do not possess a government-issued photo ID.[13]  Based on the Brennan Center’s 2006 survey, Citizens Without Proof, 25% of voting-age African Americans have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to just 8% of voting-age white citizens.[14]  The survey also states that 16% of voting-age Hispanic citizens have no current government-issued photo ID.[15]  Citizens with comparatively low incomes are also less likely to possess photo identification.[16]  The survey indicates that at least 15% of voting-age Americans earning less than $35,000 per year do not have a valid government-issued photo ID.[17]

 

A recent Pennsylvania study comparing people listed in the state’s ID database with its voter rolls found that more than one in seven Pennsylvania voters did not appear to have valid state-issued IDs.[18]  In the city of Philadelphia, nearly one out of every three voters were found to be without the proper photo identification.[19]  While there has been some discrepancy concerning the total number of voters who lack a suitable photo ID, Azavea, a geospatial software firm, used the information relevant to Philadelphia to show a disturbing tendency about where those who do not have an ID are most likely to live.[20]  The firm found that voters who live in the city’s most heavily African American-populated areas are 85% more likely to lack a valid ID than a voter who lives in a predominantly white area.  In addition, voters who live in heavily Hispanic areas were 108% more likely to lack the right ID than those in white neighborhoods.[21]

Finally, opponents of these laws argue that photo ID requirements are similar to a poll tax because, even though the state-issued photo IDs are offered for free, citizens must produce documents that cost money, like passports and birth certificates, in order to obtain the IDs.[22]

 

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.



*Christopher King is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race on the Harrisburg campus. To learn more about Christopher King, click the link to visit his page: Christopher King

[1] Applewhite v. Commonwealth, No. 330 M.D. (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 2, 2012), http://www.pacourts.us/ NR/rdonlyres/CFBF4323-B964-4846-8179-88D689375C10/0/CMWSuppDetAppPrelInjOrder _100212.pdf.

[2] Suevon Lee, Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws, ProPublica (Oct. 10, 2012, 1:54 PM), http://www.propublica.org/article/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-voter-id-laws.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Sophia Pearson, Pennsylvania Judge Bars Voter-ID Law for 2012 Election, Bloomberg (Oct. 3, 2012, 12:01 AM), http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-10-02/pennsylvania-judge-bars-voter-id-law-for-2012-election.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Lee, supra note 2.

[9] Wendy R. Weiser & Lawrence Norden, Brennan Ctr for Justice, Voting Law Changes in 2012 4 (2011), available at http://brennan.3cdn.net/92635ddafbc09e8d88_i3m6bjdeh.pdf.

[10] Id. at 2.

[11] Id.

[12] Lee, supra note 2.

[13] Weiser & Norden, supra note 9.

[14] Brennan Ctr for Justice, Citizens Without Proof: A Survery of Americans’ Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification 3 (2006), available at http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Dan Froomkin, Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Hits Philadelphia Blacks, Latinos Harder, HuffingtonPost (Aug. 7, 2012), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/07/pennsylvania-voter-id-philadelphia-blacks-latinos_n_1752480.html.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Lee, supra note 2.