HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A nearly 2-year-old
requirement that almost all of Pennsylvania's 8.2 million voters must show photo identification before casting a ballot was
struck down Friday by a state judge,
setting the stage for a courtroom showdown before the state's highest court.
Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L.
McGinley, a Democrat, said the law
would unreasonably burden the fundamental right to vote, and the state had been
unable to convincingly explain why it was necessary.
"Voting laws are designed to
assure a free and fair election; the Voter
ID Law does not further this
goal," McGinley wrote in his 103-page ruling.
The law, one of the strictest in the
nation, was signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March 2012 over the
protests of every single Democratic lawmaker in Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled
Enforcement of the law has been
blocked by court orders pending resolution of the constitutional challenge.
Both sides had vowed to appeal a
negative decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
A spokesman for Corbett did not immediately respond to a request for
comment. Lawyer Witold J. Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, which
helped lead the legal challenge, said
"the act was plainly revealed to be nothing more than a voter suppression tool."
News' Paula Reid reported that opponents have argued the law could create
"a very large problem" for as many as half a million voters in
leaders in the state charged that the law was a cynical attempt by Republicans
to hold down balloting by seniors, minorities and other Democratic-leaning
groups in the last presidential
election. Republicans called it an election-security measure, but
administration officials acknowledged that they knew of no examples of voter impersonation.
The legislation was approved during
the presidential election campaign at
a time other GOP-led states also were tightening their voting requirements -
setting off a partisan clash that continued through Election Day.
At a 12-day trial, the plaintiffs
including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the
Pennsylvania League of Women Voters
and Philadelphia's Homeless Advocacy Project emphasized problems in processing
and distributing a new voting-only ID
card available for free to voters who
lack other acceptable IDs. They said dozens of registered voters who applied for those cards before the
2012 election did not receive them
before ballots were cast.
Lawyers for the state defended the
law, arguing that a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign in 2012 and the
refinement of the special voting-only card by the Pennsylvania Department of
State educated voters about the
requirements of the law and would ensure that any registered voter who lacks an appropriate ID can now get one.