TOPICS > Politics

Pa. Judge Rules Strict Voter ID Law Will Go Into Effect Year After Election

October 2, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
A Pennsylvania judge blocked a law that will require voters to show government ID at the polls from taking effect until after the 2012 elections. Ray Suarez asks Republican Pa. state representative Daryl Metcalfe and Judith Browne-Dianis of Advancement Project if the law addresses voter fraud or merely disenfranchises voters.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The national debate over voter identification laws took a new turn in Pennsylvania today. A state judge ruled that officials must wait until 2013 to begin enforcing a new law.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The decision means Pennsylvania voters will not have to present photo identification on Election Day in November.

In his ruling today, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson noted the election is just five weeks away.

And he wrote:

“I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access to acceptable photo identification.”

As a result, he said, “I’m not convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement.”

Opponents of the law, including Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, praised the decision.

STEPHANIE SINGER, Philadelphia City commissioner: We can disagree about whether there should be any kind of photo I.D. law for voting. We can disagree — and I’m in the next several months, maybe years, we will disagree.

But there’s one thing we can’t disagree on, something we have to agree on, and that is that no one can be disenfranchised.

RAY SUAREZ: In August, Judge Simpson actually upheld the requirement that voters present a valid photo I.D. before casting ballots this fall.

Then, two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the judge to review the law again to ensure that barriers to obtaining I.D. cards are not excessive. The measure passed Pennsylvania’s Republican-dominated legislature last March on a straight party-line vote.

Representative Daryl Metcalfe was the sponsor.

DARYL METCALFE (R), Pennsylvania State representative: We have had a history in Pennsylvania of corruption within the election process. And it’s important to ensure that this very commonsense measure is in place.

Whether you board a plane or cash a check, get a library card, you have to prove that you are who you claim to be. It’s just common sense.

RAY SUAREZ: But opponents charge the real goal is to suppress turnout among minorities, the elderly and poor, traditionally Democratic blocs.

During the Democratic National Convention, Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis compared some voter I.D. statutes to literacy tests and poll taxes that kept blacks from voting for years in the South.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga.: I have seen this before. I lived this before. Too many people struggled, suffered, and died to make this possible for every American to exercise their right to vote.  

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RAY SUAREZ: Nationwide, Pennsylvania is now one of 33 states with voter identification laws. And it’s one of five states with strict photo I.D. laws. The statutes have spawned at least 15 legal challenges over everything from voter I.D. to early voting to culling voter rolls.

And in Florida, the state Republican Party has filed a fraud complaint against the company it hired to register voters. As of Friday, at least 10 counties have spotted possibly fraudulent forms turned in by the firm.

Back in Pennsylvania, another appeal to the state Supreme Court remains possible. And in the meantime, the new rules have already been modified, prompting new coalitions to form with the aim of helping voters navigate the confusion.

For more on how voter I.D. battles will play out in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, we turn to Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican state representative who wrote the Pennsylvania voter I.D. law at the heart of today’s decision, and Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, among the groups representing the plaintiff in the Pennsylvania case.

Representative Metcalfe, Judge Simpson upheld your law, just not now. Is that a victory or a defeat?

DARYL METCALFE: Good evening, Ray.

It is a victory, but also a loss. We have suffered a loss in that the voters in Pennsylvania now will not have their vote protected in this November’s election through the use of the voter photo I.D. at the voting polls when they vote in person, although we still have remaining intact our absentee ballot fraud prevention measures, which the judge left intact and didn’t touch.

I think it’s really a travesty of justice to see once again a judge legislating from the bench, rewriting a law that the people’s voice has passed through the legislative branch and that the governor signed into law.

RAY SUAREZ: Judith Browne-Dianis, is it a victory or a defeat? You wanted this law stopped.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS, Advancement Project: That’s right.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s legal. Just doesn’t take effect right away.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: Right. Well, it’s a big victory for democracy. Finally, Pennsylvania voters can know that they will have free, fair and accessible elections this November.

This is a state where there was absolutely no evidence of voter fraud.

And, in fact, you know, this is a win for democracy. We’re making sure that the election is open and that it’s equal in the way people access the ballot.

RAY SUAREZ: But now we’re looking at a soft rollout, where the state will have more time to put the law that you oppose into place. And it is, under Judge Simpson’s judgment, constitutional.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: So, we are concerned about some of the confusion around the voter education piece that will continue to be rolled out, you know, and the fact that poll workers can actually still ask people for I.D.s, although they don’t have to produce it in order to get a regular ballot.

We think at the end of the day that the Pennsylvania state constitution really does prevent this kind of law from going forward because, as the Supreme Court said, it really wanted to see, you know, make sure that there’s no disenfranchisement.

And we think that there was 760,000 people that the state estimated were going to be impacted by this law.

And, in fact, they have won because they will have access to the ballot in November.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Metcalfe, when is the next big election in Pennsylvania after November 6? And will you have time thus to answer some of Ms. Browne-Dianis’ complaints?

DARYL METCALFE: We don’t need to answer her complaints.

The Constitution is very clear. This is the responsibility of the legislature. It stands within our area of responsibility to set this process up for the elections.

And ultimately the way the courts have wrote these decisions, wrote these opinions, it’s very clear that they believe that this is constitutional.

They went down this path of looking at the availability of I.D. cards which have been more than available for the last eight months. People have had plenty of time to secure the I.D.s. Once again, I think this is just another act of judicial activism, a judge legislating from the bench.

As we approach next year’s primary, I think we will have plenty of time for hopefully the judges to be comfortable in the fact that people will have had over a year to secure I.D. now.

I don’t know how much time they would ultimately want people to have. But I think eight months in this year was plenty of time unless a person just didn’t have the work ethic to get out there and do what they needed to do to get their I.D.

RAY SUAREZ: Where does the battle move next? There are other states still enmeshed in arguments about how to run elections and what people should have to show when they enter a polling place.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, at the end of the day, you know, this is a fundamental right to our democracy is to be able to participate through electing those who represent you.

And, unfortunately, what’s happened is that across the country over the past two years, we have seen these laws passed by some politicians that want to manipulate the rules of voting so that they can gain themselves.

And, unfortunately, it’s impacted those who turned out in record numbers in 2008, young voters, people of color, the elderly.

Even in Pennsylvania, we’re talking about veterans who find themselves not being able to vote. And so at the end of the day, we’re going to continue to fight these laws that create barriers to equal voting.

RAY SUAREZ: Representative Metcalfe, during the run-up to the court case, you told me that given Supreme Court precedent and what other states were doing, you felt that Pennsylvania was right in the slipstream of where the country was going.

Do you still feel the same way, that Pennsylvania really isn’t an odd man out? And can this law be put in place in a way that gets that number of disenfranchised, potentially disenfranchised people down?

DARYL METCALFE: I don’t believe there will be anybody disenfranchised.

I think that was proven through the Indiana case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which we modeled our law after the Indiana law.

Ultimately, I don’t believe there would have been any disenfranchised voters going to the polls this November. I think that was a straw man argument that was used by the left to try and stop the I.D., to try and maintain status quo, to ultimately protect the forces of corruption.

We have seen ACORN filing fictitious registrations in 2008. We have had prosecutions in Pennsylvania for election fraud. Ultimately, I believe that this law will stand. It’s going to be the will of the people.

The majority of Pennsylvanians want to make sure that this policy is in place to protect every legally cast vote to ensure the forces of corruption do not have their way with undermining the will of the people.

RAY SUAREZ: Is it still unclear, though, where this is all going to end up, given the court setbacks in Ohio, in various other states where they have tried to limit the days of early voting, raise the threshold for identification when you come to the polls, various rule changes in advance of this November 6?

DARYL METCALFE: I think there’s — we’re expecting to see the court revisit this in December to consider the permanent injunction that was filed by the leftists who are trying to stop this new policy in Pennsylvania.

But, ultimately, I believe we will be victorious. It took me 10 years to get to the point where we had this signed into law. I’m not willing to give up. I’m here for another session at least.

And I’m going to be working with my colleagues and working with citizens across the state, the majority of citizens across the state that want to see this commonsense policy in place to ensure that every legally cast vote is protected and not one legally cast vote is canceled out by the forces of corruption.

RAY SUAREZ: Ms. Browne-Dianis, quickly, before we go, does the battle just enter a new phase now that November 6 is no longer an issue?

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: November 6 is not an issue in most states.

But we will continue to make sure that we are on the side of voters, that we ensure that the right to vote is actually realized in this country, and that, you know, while we — no one wants fraud in the system, that we can’t create these artificial barriers that are really about partisan politics.

RAY SUAREZ: Judith Browne-Dianis, Representative Metcalfe, thank you both.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: Thank you.

DARYL METCALFE: Thank you.