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January 17, 2014 5:11 PM Limited Setback For Voter ID in PA

By Ed Kilgore

I’m sure a lot of voting rights advocates have been struck by the irony that one day after the unveiling of a Voting Rights Act “fix” bill that omitted voter ID laws as a presumptive violation (to secure GOP support or at least tolerance), a state judge in Pennsylvania struck down that state’s voter ID law.

But as election law wizard Rick Hasen observed today, it’s not entirely clear the decision will have widespread implications, or even stick in the Keystone State.

On the latter point, the state is appealing the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Hasen’s not sure at all what will happen there (could be a decision that strikes down this particular law but makes it clear how the Republican-controlled legislature could fix it). And on the former point, the decision specifically disclaims any holding that voter ID violates state or federal equal protection constitutional provisions.

Perhaps the most important finding by the Pennsylvania judge is that the state’s failure to identify any examples of voter fraud undermines the rationale for the law. That’s going to be true just about everywhere. And as courts in a few other states have made clear, the judge scored the state for the failure to provide adequately for education of voters about new requirements (which, of course, is hardly an accident given the blatant motivation of PA GOPers to get this law enacted in time to move the state’s electorate votes into Mitt Romney’s column in 2012).

What is clear is that at a time when turnout is so important in determining electoral outcomes, Republicans won’t give up on voter ID. Perhaps the judicial review will keep it at bay in PA until the midterms are over. But this is going to be a long struggle against determined opponents of an effective universal franchise.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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