Pennsylvania Judge Strikes Photo ID Law in Victory for Voting Rights

Voting in Pennsylvania just got easier for ballot-casters. A judge struck down Pennsylvania's photo-ID requirement Friday, saying that there was no convincing reason the law was necessary for the voting process. Judge Bernard McGinley also ruled the requirement unfairly burdened voters, especially after officials admitted there's never been a case of "election impersonation" — despite the ballot being billed as an "election security measure" by Republicans. The legislation was two years old and considered one of the nation's strictest voting laws: not a single Democrat approved its passage when it was signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley wrote in his opinion, siding with Democrats to say it presented a "substantial threat" to the state's voters. "Certainly a vague concern about voter fraud does not rise to a level that justifies the burdens constructed here."

The ACLU led the legal fight resulting in the ruling, arguing that it was a clear means of "voter suppression." Democrat lawmakers echoed this in their legislative arguments against the bill earlier, saying it was a means of discouraging votes from minorities and other citizens who are both less likely to have ID, and who tend to vote Democrat.

While a voting-only ID card was created for the 2012 elections, testimony from representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, and Philadelphia’s Homeless Advocacy Project indicated that there were problems getting the cards out in time for the election. Despite the initiative's failure, the state argued the process wasn't inconvenient at all.

This isn't the last time the courtroom will see this battle: It's likely the case will now go all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, in other good news for voter rights activists, the Voting Rights Act may soon see a revival. As Bustle reported yesterday:

On Thursday, a bipartisan team of lawmakers unveiled legislation to substantially strengthen the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted it last year. While the proposed legislation wouldn’t fully return the VRA to its former glory, it would significantly bolster certain elements of the law that were weakened by the court, making it easy for the federal government to prosecute voter disenfranchisement and harder for certain states to pass changes to voting laws...

The new legislation would attempt to rebuild that list based on more recent criteria. Specifically, it would require any state that’s violated federal voting laws five or more times in the last fifteen years to fall under the preclearance requirement. That means that Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas would all be required to get federal permission before changing their voting laws, but Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — all of which were listed in the old preclearance requirement — wouldn’t. So it’s not a complete reinstatement, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

The proposed bill would have some other pretty significant fixes, too, which you can read about here. One significant drawback is that voter ID laws are exempt from the criteria I just detailed above. In other words, if a state enacted a voter ID law that a court subsequently found to be illegal, that wouldn’t be considered a violation of federal voting law. It’s a pretty huge loophole, but it was apparently necessary to get the support of other House Republicans.