After more than two weeks of testimony in the Pennsylvania Voter ID trial, the Commonwealth Court will not issue a ruling until after the November 5th General Election. On Friday, August 16th, Judge Bernard L. McGinley issued a decision that essentially means even though poll workers may still request a photo ID, voters are not required to provide picture identification to vote in the next election. In other words, for Pennsylvania voters not much changed since the trial began back on July 15th. Since the Voter ID law was passed, the upcoming November election will be the fourth primary where the law is not implemented. According to the ACLU, McGinley's ruling on Friday extends the preliminary injunction of the law until the Commonwealth Court makes a decision on the permanent injunction. McGinley is expected to issue post trial briefs by August 30th. There is no date set for when the judge will rule on the plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction although analysts anticipate a decision will be made before the end of the calendar year.
With the Voter ID law in limbo for the time being, the ruling is a temporary win for the plaintiffs who attest that the law unfairly disenfranchises voters who are likely to be older adults, disabled, non-English speakers and/or non-white. On the flip side of the coin, just because the Voter ID law is barred from being implemented does not mean that the Commonwealth Court is going to find in the plaintiff's favor. In addition to keeping the temporary injunction in place, McGinley also said on Friday that the poll workers simply asking people to provide photo identification at the last election was not in and of itself voter disfranchisement. Rather, the State's "soft rollout" of the law caused undue hardship and confusion for many poll workers and voters alike. Prior to last year's election, the Department of State intended for poll workers to simply inform voters that in the future when the law was implemented that they would be required to show a state-approved picture identification to vote. What actually happened was that some poll workers thought that voters could not vote in the last election without providing photo identification and eligible voters were turned away at the polls.
Even within State government there was a certain level of confusion about the "soft rollout". The Department of Aging misled some people at the local senior citizen centers that they had to produce proof of identification in order to vote in the election. The Department of State had a list of what identification constituted an approved photo ID, but not every eligible voter was able to obtain the accepted forms of identification in time for the election. Issues with PennDOT locations further complicated the issue for voters who attempted to get an ID in time to vote. Some people were incorrectly informed that they could go to any PennDOT location to obtain a photo ID when in reality not every center provides that service. For people who did not have transportation to one of those locations, getting a photo ID in time for the election was impossible. Even for those voters who succeeded in getting an approved photo ID, a number of them still could not vote in the election last November because their photo card did not arrive in the mail in time. Those voters did not vote in the election because they believed that the Voter ID law was in effect and without identification they could not vote at the polls.
During the trial, Marian Baker testified that she did not vote in the May primaries because she did not have an approved photo ID. Other voters who were called to testify at the trial gave similar testimonies that they did not vote because they lacked the State-approved photo ID they thought they were required to produce in order to voter. These voters were typically older adults who did not have a driver's license or other type of state-produced photo identification and because of their age and disabilities were unable to travel to a location to obtain such an ID. Allegations of voter suppression marked this case even before the trial began last month. In response to McKinley's August 16th ruling, many comments on PennLive were in support and understanding of the limitations and hardships that kept some voters at home last year. Comments also questioned the need for the Voter ID law to begin with wanting to know if it was enacted as a solution in search of a problem. Others wanted proof of documented voter fraud in Pennsylvania and said that if every vote counts that the State could eliminate voter suppression by allowing people to provide other forms of identification outside of a photo ID.
According to the United State Election Project, about 40% of Pennsylvania's eligible voters tend to vote in a general election. The highest voter turnout in a general election is usually when the country votes for a United States president, and for PA, the number increased less than two percent. What this means is that of the 9,567,164 eligible PA voters, only 3,987,551 actually case a ballot in a general election. Even if voter fraud ran rampant in Pennsylvania, about 60% of the state's eligible do not vote in the biggest election let alone in the state-wide and county races. Proponents of the Voter ID law have been unable to prove that voter fraud is an actual problem. Instead the law seems to focus on preventing a problem from occurring. The downside is that those prevention efforts kept eligible voters from casting their ballots at the polls. With only 40% of the state deciding which candidate will be elected it seems fundamental to concentrate the efforts on removing any barriers such as voter suppression that keeps people from the polls and to focus on encouraging the 60% of eligible voters to cast a ballot at the next election.