Stop Pennsylvania ID Law Now

As Kevin Costner put it when he portrayed Wyatt Earp, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett would do well to proclaim: “It all stops now.”

Corbett would benefit all 8 million Pennsylvanians, besides the guv and me, if he shelved all efforts to implement the state’s new voter ID law. By persisting with this law, he could gamble that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will have the edge on winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes as citizens must carry state-approved identification to vote. Doubtful.

President Obama is leaving Romney in the dust in polling for Pennsylvania, so he is likely to take the state no matter how many voters are disenfranchised.

Besides, Obama may not even need to win Pennsylvania to get re-elected. Even conservative Republicans fear the election is over after Romney offended 47 percent of the non-income taxpaying public, which could include himself.

If he runs for re-election in 2014, Corbett could be pummeled by the voter ID issue, and it might already be a campaign issue for Republican incumbents in state legislative contests this Nov. 6.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision not to decide should cue Corbett to suspend the voter-ID law. In its 4-2 ruling, the court sent the message that this law is unworkable.

The minority on the court spelled that out directly on Tuesday, Sept. 18, by insisting that the court grant the law’s opponents a preliminary injunction, according to accounts in Philadelphia‘s Inquirer and Daily News. The four justices in the majority – three Republicans and one Democrat – decided to tell Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson to determine if the state is providing “liberal access” to new cards issued for voting or if the law prevents any voter from casting a ballot. If not, Simpson is “obliged” to issue a preliminary injunction by Oct. 2.

Simpson already reached a positive determination on Aug. 15. That is why his decision was appealed to the Supreme Court in the first place.

The majority of the court sounded as if they knew they should have junked the law right then and there when they wrote: “We are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect within a relatively short time frame and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless in light of the serious operational constraints faced by the executive branch.

“Given this state of affairs, we are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though we have no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.”

It is painfully obvious that three Republicans in the majority dumped it back in Simpson’s lap to insulate them from the political fallout. I get the feeling that they will put out a contract on Simpson’s life if he fails to reverse his ruling. Maybe even on his wife, children and any dog, cat, canary or goldfish in the house.

The fourth member of the majority is Democrat Max Baer. If all six justices voted along party lines, they would have tied 3-3. A tie vote would automatically uphold Simpson’s original opinion.

This law has been a nightmare for citizens who lack appropriate identification. Sponsors of the law claim it will root out fraud, but in the real world the law is obstructing the rights of citizens to vote. The law, opponents said, will block attempts to vote for seniors, the disabled, racial minorities, the poor, college students and young voters.

At least 80,000 Pennsylvanians are estimated to need voter ID cards, and that number could approach one million. Since March, 8,165 nondriver ID cards have been issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Want to bet if PennDOT can finish the task by Election Day?

Republicans in the General Assembly were accused of enacting the law to help the GOP presidential candidate win Pennsylvania. Surely it is mere coincidence that the law can suppress voter turnout in Philadelphia, where citizens will vote in overwhelming numbers for Obama and other Democratic candidates.

Finally, some legal experts claim that the law is constitutional. The main concern is for smooth implementation.

The impact on Election Day lines has not been addressed. Lines are long enough during presidential elections, and repeated checks for voter ID will prolong the wait times.

Maybe none of my fellow Pennsylvanians mind. I do. 

End note

Political threats were swiftly issued by a state tea party group which would seek to defeat Baer and Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, in their 2013 retention elections. They complained that the justices should have upheld the ruling, and they are calling upon Corbett to appeal a negative ruling.

Don Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, wrote in a news release, “If this law is not upheld, we will hold Justices Castille and Baer accountable in their 2013 retention election – and, possibly, Governor Corbett in his 2014 primary contest.”

Bruce S. Ticker of Philadelphia is author of George Costanza Goes to Washington, available at TheWriteDeal. He can be reached at: Bticker@comcast.net. Read other articles by Bruce.