Pennsylvania judge upholds voter ID law
August 15th, 2012
11:25 AM ET
10 years ago

Pennsylvania judge upholds voter ID law

(CNN) - A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday decided not to restrict a controversial voter ID law from going into place.

The law, which requires voters to present a state issued photo ID, has been met with fierce opposition by those who claim that the law discriminates against minorities.

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In the Keystone State, the issue has largely been divided along party lines. Republicans argue the new law helps to fight fraud, while Democrats make the case that the new law aids Republicans in the voting booth by limiting turnout by minorities in the crucial battleground state.

But Judge Robert Simpson, with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, on Wednesday issued an order expressing no constitutional reason to stop the law from taking effect, despite writing in his decision that he had "sympathy" for the witnesses.

"At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for the counsel. Rather, I must analyze the law, and apply it to the evidence of facial unconstitutionality brought forth in the courtroom, tested by our adversarial system," Simpson wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Advancement Project, and the law firm of Arnold & Porter will be appealing to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, according to a statement from the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

"Given clear evidence that impersonation fraud is not a problem, we had hoped that the court would show greater concern for the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this law," Witold 'Vic' Walczak, legal director for the state's ACLU, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania GOP chairman praised the judge's decision.

"I applaud the Commonwealth Court for displaying courage and conviction in this ruling. With sensational headlines and half-truths about this legislation being touted by partisan critics, we are fortunate that the Commonwealth Court realized that the sanctity of our elections was at stake – and took appropriate action to protect a cherished right," Rob Gleason said in a statement.

Pennsylvania represents a crucial battleground state this fall in the presidential election. While a Republican candidate hasn't won the state since 1988, the state made big GOP gains in recent years and has a Republican governor and one U.S. senator.

A recent poll released August 1 suggests President Barack Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania by a margin of 53% to 42%, though Romney has in the past predicted he'll win the state in November.

In late July, the Justice Department began a formal investigation into whether the state's requirement violates civil rights laws, saying the state had 30 days to provide the requested documents.

Pennsylvania is the first state outside of the areas covered by Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act designed to protect minorities in states with historic racial discrimination in voting, to be investigated. To date the Justice Department has already filed suit against two states: South Carolina and Texas. Officials are awaiting a ruling by a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., on a Texas case argued in early July. Judges have scheduled a hearing on the South Carolina case later this summer.

The Civil Rights Division has taken an aggressive approach to challenging voter photo-ID laws, which many Democratic and minority groups claim is an effort by Republican-controlled state governments to suppress voter turnout. Republicans have charged the challenges reflect purely partisan politics designed to enhance minority turnout at the polls.

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Terry Frieden, Karan Olson, Sarah Hoye, Adam Levy, and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • Pennsylvania
soundoff (106 Responses)
  1. De - Facto Poll Tax

    "I don't understand how this is even a debatable issue. It's 2012, get an ID to prove who you are, and then you can vote. Chances are, everyone who wants to vote already has an ID. There is no conspiracy or fraud about it. It's a simple and necessary way to prove your identity. You need one to drive a car, own property, rent property, buy alcohol, use credit card purchases... etc. Seriously, how can you actually argue that is unconstitutional?"

    A sizable percentage of the electorate, (some estimates up to 18%) in PA do not have the requisite IDs. This isn't just a few tiny sets of people.

    In the long term, Voter ID makes sense provided mechanisms are in place to ensure everyone can get an ID.

    However the intent of this bill is not to require IDs because it makes sense, the intent of this bill is to remove certain voters from the rolls to increase GOP election chances. It doesn't matter how much Voter ID makes sense of there are ulterior motives to creating the requirement.

    Furthermore you are really playing with fire here. Suppose Obama loses and the margin of defeat in states like PA are within the number of eligible voters that were denied the right to vote because of the ID laws. You just handed him a legit justifcation to refuse to accept the outcome of the PAs electoral vote.

    August 15, 2012 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  2. john

    You should have a state photo ID to prove that you are who you SAY you are. I have my license with a photo and my Father (86yrs old) who no longer drives has a state issued photo ID. Why......because he needs to prove he is who he says he is. All of Obama voters should already have state issued ID's anyway so they can cash their welfare, ssi, and disability checks (LOL) so what are the dems complaining about.

    August 15, 2012 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  3. Chris

    In 2000 at serval polling in mainly dems over 1200 people voted for gore later it was found out these people who voted were dead moved to another state and felonies. First 2 years of obama the house and senate were dems and nothing got done. But obama blamed bush. Everytime something doesnt go right he blames others instead of taking blame himself also. He sounds like my 18 year old who blames everyone except herself. U dems need to wakeup before u no longer have any rights to anything because if not ure govt will tell u how to do everything. If ure really smart u will look up the facts before u vote obama. But yall want because hes yalls god and what he says goes. Obama who is a millionaire paid 6 percent in taxes last year compared to romney who paid 14 percent. But romney is the bad guy. Obama says share the wealth china does the same thing but obamas brother who is in proverty he want help him

    August 15, 2012 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |

    You need an ID to buy alcohol.
    You need a to produce at least five years of tax returns to buy a house..

    You're damn right you need to produce 10 years of tax returns to be President of the United States.

    August 15, 2012 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  5. rrd

    @ 83 Days until Obama gets RE-ELECTED !

    But it's ok for the government to demand I have health care insurance or pay a tax, right?

    August 15, 2012 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. ToChrisThaDummy

    lol stop it dude, you know the congress is controlled by Republicans and their whole mission is to sabotage Obama's term so he does not get reelected and look like he did nothing for us when really, they b.s.ed about Jobs Act which would create plenty of jobs.. excuse me sir but how many filibusters were used in his term? oh yeah I am sure a conservative would not want to talk about that..

    August 15, 2012 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. Fair is Fair

    "Fair, college students may not be able to travel to their home state to vote. They can to vote on their campus."
    Ghost... they CANNOT vote in a state where they're not a resident. Does it make sense to you that if you were a resident of Virginia and a student in Pennsylvania, that your vote as a Virginia resident would count towards Pennsylvania's electoral votes? Of course not.

    College students should be filling out an absentee ballot for the state in which they are a legal resident.

    August 15, 2012 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. De - Facto Poll Tax

    'In 2000 at serval polling in mainly dems over 1200 people voted for gore later it was found out these people who voted were dead moved to another state and felonies."

    So for 1200 alledged invalid votes, you'll disenfranchise almost 200,000 people? Really?

    August 15, 2012 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. DarqueSide

    Here's some interesting numbers for Pennsylvania. Number of persons convicted of a voter pretending to be someone he or she was not, since the year 2004? ZERO (0). Number of votes cast in PA elections since 2004? 20 MILLION in . Effective fraud rate that would be addressed by the Voter ID laws? 0.00%.

    Bottom line – PA is disenfranchising 750,000 voters so they can prevent a fraud that's NOT HAPPENING! This is akin to rounding up 750,000 people off the street and throwing them in jail because they MIGHT be criminals!

    August 15, 2012 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  10. Ken in MD

    The Voter ID law was passed to fix a problem that doesn't exist. The national figures on voter fraud are something like 350 cases across the US over the last 10 years. That's fewer than 1 case per state per year. Is that really worth a law that prevents thousands (millions nationwide) from voting?

    Is the state handing out photo IDs at all polling stations to make it easier for legal voters to vote? No. They make you travel sometimes 20-30 miles to get one. The GOP has won this one, for now. Let's see if SCOTUS gets involved and which way their 5-4 parisan vote will come out.

    August 15, 2012 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  11. ptny


    Time is of the essence!

    Please register to vote today! Do not wait, you need to receive your voter cards in the mail and this takes three to four weeks!

    Replace the Republicans & Congress of NO!

    Let's move forward!

    August 15, 2012 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. Tom Legare

    Has anyone checked the Judge's party affiliation. Gee you think he is a Republican. The state admitted that there was no proof of voter fraud. Check to see if the judge gets a big windfall in the near future.. Someone likely paid off the judge.

    August 15, 2012 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  13. Fair is Fair

    1. He said he resides in PA, where he attends school.

    2. The issue is not residency, it is domicile, which is different and a matter of the person's intent. It has long been held that students residing in a different state can choose to consider themselves domiciled there and therefore vote in that state's elections.
    1. He DID NOT say he resides in PA. He said he attends school in PA.

    2. IF a student desires to vote in the state in which he is domiciled, said student would have had to register in that state to get on the voter rolls... at which point, the acceptable voter id would be issued.

    August 15, 2012 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  14. John

    This law addresses an non-existent problem. There is very little voter fraud in in-person voting. The real fraud occurs in absentee voting. But you won't see a law passed to address the real problem, becuase Republicans get the majority of the absentee votes.

    August 15, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  15. kgt

    Where is the common sense people?

    The issue is that state issued photo IDs cost money to obtain and could therefore be considered a roundabout way of implementing a poll tax.

    Does it not seem like a simple solution to 1) require state issued photo ID for all voters to provide for the sanctity of the election process and 2) provide vouchers for those on government assistance to obtain a free state issued photo ID. I'm not suggesting free drivers licenses, but simply a free photo ID for those that are too poor to obtain any other acceptable form of photo ID. And if you don't have the required documentation to sufficiently prove who you are to obtain a state issued ID, then you have no business voting in the first place since you can't prove who you are.

    August 15, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  16. nilla

    Let me get this straight – the Democratic party is such a bunch of lying cheats that they will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to help people vote multiple times for their candidates. Except using fake IDs. They draw the line there. When it comes to voter fraud, the Democratic party is extremely motivated to break the law, but not as motivates as college kids are to buy beer.

    Thank you, PA GOP, for an $11 million law that does NOTHING but create unnecessary bureaucracy. "Small government conservatives", my backside.

    August 15, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  17. jon

    a drivers phot ID costs money. a no driving photo ID is free

    August 15, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  18. mhaar

    The US voter registration form requires all people who speak Spanish to respond in English. The form requires Pennsylvania to require a Drivers license or a Social Security number or if they do not have this they write in None. So this law filled in the gap for the None. The US Voter Registration form for the blind is not accessible to the blind and for Spanish speaking people it speaks in English. The form requires the blind to draw a map of where they live on the form and this has also been effective in eliminating the Navaho and Hopi Indians from voting because the map drawing on the form is to label a four way intersection and they do not live anywhere near a four way intersection, they live on the land. The form for the blind imposes a poll tax on the blind to use a program that costs $1100 to fill out parts of the form. The only people who can afford that are rich people and government officials. Hence the lack of concern.

    August 15, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  19. Jerry

    OMG. Finally, a judge with "bolas". Judge Robert Simpson, ¡Adelante!

    August 15, 2012 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "I wonder why the liberals are so worked up over this law....could it be that they know how many dead pets vote in elections? This law will help to stop voter fraud – how can any American citizen be against limiting voting to only people who have a legal right to vote?'

    1. Because studies have shown that upwards of 1.8M PA, and parrticularly Phlidelhia, residents do not have the required form of ID and likely do not knwo what it is or how to obtain it. The Secretary of the Commonwealth of PA, the woman in charge of implementing and enforcing this law and then certifying the lection results, testified in this very trial that she does not know which IDs are permitted and the procedures for obtaining them. This law WILL result in the disenfranchisement of thousands and thousands of legal citizens who possess the right to vote. Of course it's designed to.

    2. You can't 'help stop" something that already isn't happening.

    August 15, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  21. Mike From PA

    @83 Days until Obama gets RE-ELECTED ! – It's simple... and obvious that you are missing the poin. One is already required to provide some form of picture ID to vote. The law becomes "unconstitutional" when one if required to have and to PAY for a State ID in order to vote in that state. That is a poll tax which is illegal and unconstitutional.

    I am one of 2 people in my voting district with the exact same name. In the last presidential election, the voting instructor's put my vote down under his name. Please provide an example on a better way to ensure this can not happen again than a legal identification card.

    August 15, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. Malory Archer


    You should have a state photo ID to prove that you are who you SAY you are. I have my license with a photo and my Father (86yrs old) who no longer drives has a state issued photo ID


    Your father has a birth certificate that allows him to obtain a state-issued driver license. Many females of his generation DON'T have birth certificates because they were born in rural America and their parents were told "girls don't need birth certificates". My elderly mom is worried about renewing her Florida driver license in a few years because she doesn't have a BC, and anyone who could act as a witness to her birth is long since deceased.

    August 15, 2012 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  23. Mark

    I have no problem with proof od ifendtification but if you're a senior who does not drive, what ID should you use. This has nothing to do with what's right and everyhting to do with controlling the election results. I only hope that republicans lose in spite of this effort.

    August 15, 2012 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  24. Wake up People!

    That's the only way Willard can win. Cheating. Just like his mentor shrubby.

    August 15, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  25. Keith in PA

    Non partisa studies and the PA state Department statistics offered into evidence at the hearing show that as many as 700,000 PA voters do not have a photo ID. Contrary to a comment above, you do not need a photo ID to own property, rent property, buy alcohol or use a credit card. When was the last time that any of us actually had to show a state issued photo ID other than a traffic stop?

    There are also a lot of married or divorced women who have photo IDs where the name does not match the voting records. How many married women rush to change their voting registration as soon as they get married. Typically, you don't even think about it until you are at the polling place and ready to vote. If your registration is not the same name as your driver's license, you cannot vote.

    Also, how many of you have tried to get a state-issued birth certificate recently? I did a few months ago for a sick family member trying to get benefits to go into a nursing home and it took me 3 months and about $40. If the only reason you have to go get the birth certificate is to get a picture ID so you can vote, it is poll tax

    August 15, 2012 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
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