Chalk up another one for voter ID laws and representative politics. On Wednesday, a Pennsylvania judge refused to block a new Keystone State ID law from going into effect, handing a defeat to the ACLU and Attorney General Eric Holder’s campaign to demonize such laws as racist.
Judge Robert Simpson didn’t rule on the state constitutional merits, which he will hear later. But he sensibly refused to overturn a law duly passed by an elected legislature and signed by the Governor that applies equally to all Pennsylvania residents. He said the state government will carry out the law in a “non-partisan, even-handed manner” and so deserves to be put into effect until the larger issues can be decided.
The ACLU says it will appeal, but it’s notable that the left-wing legal group specifically avoided arguing this case in federal court. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court has already held (in 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County) that a similar Indiana law requiring photo ID is constitutional and not an undue burden on voters for the sake of ensuring accurate elections.
The ACLU claims the new law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution by denying citizens the right to vote. For an emotional punch, the group trotted out 93-year old plaintiff Viviette Applewhite, who lacks a birth certificate. They also make much of the fact that the names of 759,000 registered voters statewide don’t match up with the ID list kept by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (known as PennDot), meaning a lot of voters don’t currently have what they need to vote.
None of this is persuasive. The Pennsylvania Department of State says that of those 759,000 non-matches, some 167,000 were inactive voters who haven’t cast a ballot in five years. That often includes college students who have moved but failed to cancel their voter registration. Also inflating the numbers are names that don’t match exactly from one list to the next. If you’re Jennifer Jones on the voter registration list and Jen Jones to PennDot, you’re one of the non-matches.
Since the law passed in March, Pennsylvania has also made it easier to get a state ID for voting purposes and begun providing them free of charge. Under state law, driver’s licenses, passports, military ID, federal government employee ID and college ID all qualify at the voting booth. The state will also provide a free ID to anyone who signs an affirmation that he needs it to vote, requiring only a Social Security number and two proofs of residence. Viviette will get her ID.
But there’s more. Voters who show up at their polling place without an ID will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot and present proof of identity within six days. Indigent voters may also cast a provisional ballot and sign a statement saying they couldn’t obtain the necessary documents. Does all of this plausibly add up to voter suppression?
The ACLU also advertises—and the national media have played up—that the state lists no known instances of voter fraud. However, the state Attorney General’s office doesn’t typically prosecute election fraud cases because most voter fraud is investigated by county boards of election and prosecuted by the 67 county district attorneys. As independent elected officials, they don’t report their caseload to the state AG, making it nearly impossible for Pennsylvania to compile state-wide statistics.