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Two-time loss in voter ID trial may influence Commonwealth's decision to appeal

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As it was reported in PennLive, Kathleen Kane issued a statement on Monday, January 20 asserting that the Attorney General's office will not be involved in the decision-making process regarding an appeal of Judge McGinley's opinion in the PA voter ID case. Although Kane admitted she had misgivings about the practicality of implementing the law, she would have put aside her personal views to defend the law. Considering the Voter ID law was not implemented as it was intended due to challenges in court, it is impossible to know to what extent Kane's office would have had to work to defend the controversial law. Almost from the onset of the law's birth, it was blocked from going into effect while the constitutionality of the law was challenged in Commonwealth Court. What did occur over that time period was mass confusion and misinformation about the photo ID requirement. The two state agencies, Department of State and PennDOT, assigned the task of educating the public about obtaining a photo ID only made a worse case for the Commonwealth when they finally went to court to defend the law.

Judge McGinley issued a 103-page memorandum decision this past Friday ruling that the Voter ID law was unconstitutional and caused an undue burden to be placed on Pennsylvania voters. Public responses to McGinley's decision varied from one extreme to the other. Some people cheered the ruling believing justice prevailed. Critics of the law were convinced that it was drafted as a Republican tool of voter suppression. In June 2012, it was reported that House Majority Leader Mike Turzai informed fellow Republicans gathered for a meeting that the Voter ID law would help GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania on election day. Others were bothered by the "undue burden" terminology wondering what other constitutional rights were also being violated by a photo ID requirement. Many people just could not comprehend that any person alive in 2014 does not have a photo ID and wondered how those without picture identification could get along in life without one. Allegations were even made that McGinley was an activist judge set out to change the law for his own political leanings.

Considering that the first judge who ruled against the State is a Republican and McGinley is a Democrat, it seems illogical that the two parties were in cahoots when they determined the law to be unconstitutional ruling in favor of the respondents. Putting partisan politics aside, what many people failed to understand was that this was the second time that the Commonwealth failed in a court of law to prove their allegations that photo identification is needed to prevent voter fraud. If the judicial branch bases their rulings on evidence presented and the law, the Commonwealth is not doing themselves any favors by appealing a decision that is not based in partisan politics. The fact of the matter is that they lost the case again in part because they are unable to substantiate their claim that voter fraud even exists in Pennsylvania. Judge McGinley stated on page 38 of his opinion that "a vague concern about voter fraud does not rise to the level that justifies the burdens constructed here. Therefore, this Court does not find in-person voter fraud a compelling interest the Voter ID Law was designed to serve." As the Respondents, the Commonwealth assumed the responsibility of providing the burden of proof that there is a problem with voter fraud in the state which they could not accomplish.

According to The Slate, while there are 23 cases of election fraud, there are only five substantiated cases of voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Snopes.com, who make it their mission to investigate rumors, could not find any evidence substantiating claims that it was a statistical improbability that no votes were cast in all of Philadelphia's 59 voting districts in November 2012 for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. With Philadelphia being known as a Democratic strong-hold in elections, the election mirrored the 2008 election when presidential candidate John McCain was also a non-recipient for votes in that area. Much testimony that occurred in the second trial centered on the number of eligible voters who would not be able to exercise their right to vote as they did not have a valid photo ID. Expert testimony estimated the number of voters without identification to be anywhere from 259,000 to 759,000. Most importantly, the Commonwealth's witness presented testimony that anywhere from 4% to 5% of registered voters did not have an approved ID. In numerical terms that meant that anywhere from 320,000 to 400,000 Pennsylvania voters would have be affected by the law. Certainly, those numbers of disenfranchised voters more than exceed the five substantiated claims of voter fraud in PA.

At this point, if the Commonwealth is going to appeal McGinley's decision, they have until next Monday to submit the paperwork. Kane's office will not be part of any appeal submission as Governor Corbett and Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele are the parties ultimately responsible with determining the course of action that the Commonwealth will take in regards to an appeal. Considering the State spent about $6 million in futile attempts to educate citizens how to obtain a photo ID through PennDOT for voting purposes and at least another additional $1 million in legal fees, it seems like a waste of taxpayer money to appeal the decision to Superior Court. With this ruling being the second time the Commonwealth lost to the petitioners, the logical decision is to drop it from here. The Voter ID law was poorly written to begin with and a solution in search of a problem where one did not exist or at the very least something that could not be proven which in the end is what sealed the nail in the proverbial coffin in court.

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