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PA Voter ID Law Trial Commences This Week

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By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on July 16, 2013 10:01 AM

Pennsylvania's hotly contested voter identification law goes to trial today to determine whether the law is enforceable, The Washington Post reports. If enforced, the law could be one of the strictest in the nation, and could serve as a model for other states who could end up disenfranchising voters in the name of preventing voter fraud, reports NPR.

Background of the Pennsylvania Law

In 2012, Pennsylvania's Election Code was amended to include a photo identification requirement. Republican law-makers pushed the law through, without a single Democratic vote, with the purpose of preventing election fraud. However, The Atlantic noted that Republican House Majority Leader, Mike Turazi, stated that the new voter ID law "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

Despite the law's passage, the law has yet to be enforced, as it has gone back and forth in the courts as to its applicability in recent elections. Now, the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania will determine whether Pennsylvania's voter ID law is constitutional. The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the highest court of the state.

Other States' Voter ID Laws

Pennsylvania is far from the only state with voter ID laws in place. Even more disturbing, Frontline reports that within twenty-four hours of the Supreme Court's decision to strike portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, five states introduced voter ID legislation.

The Supreme Court

So where does the U.S. Supreme Court stand on voter identification laws? The latest case that we can look to is Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., where the Court upheld an Indiana voter photo identification law on the grounds that it was closely related to Indiana's legitimate state interest in preventing voter fraud and maintaining confidence in elections. The question however, still remains because the Supreme Court rejected a facial challenge to the law and left the possibility that such a law could be unconstitutional as applied in a particular circumstance.

Will Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law Prevail?

If the Pennsylvania courts follow the guidance set forth in Crawford, the question will likely revolve around whether there is a substantial burden imposed on voters in getting a photo ID. In Indiana, the state provided free IDs, thus mitigating the burden placed on voters. The Indiana law also lessened the burden by allowing voters without identification to cast a "provisional ballot that will be counted if they execute the required affidavit at the circuit court clerk's office."

In Pennsylvania, to increase the likelihood of enforcement, the state created a special voter ID card that would be easier to get than a driver's license. NPR noted that the state issued one to the lead plaintiff in the case, Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year old woman without a birth certificate or other documents required for an ID. However, her lawyers noted that the state made an exception for her and there are many others who don't have the necessary documentation.

The Indiana law seemed like it may have been easier for voters to obtain ID. Furthermore, there isn't any mention of provisional ballots giving voters the ability to prove identity after the fact in the Pennsylvania law. For these reasons, the Pennsylvania law may be found unconstitutional.

However, with so many states rushing to enact Voter ID laws, it looks like we'll need more guidance from the Supreme Court.

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