A coalition of progressive agencies this week filed a suit to overturn the new law, which requires voters to produce valid photo identification every time they go to the polls, while a bill was also submitted to the state legislature to repeal the measure.
While proponents argue that the law prevents voter fraud, critics say it discriminates against minorities, the poor and the elderly, who are less likely to possess an ID, and could be a tool by Republican leaders to gain a foothold in elections. The law could also have an unfavorable impact on transgender voters, say LGBT activists.
The legislature approved the measure in March, and Gov. Corbett summarily signed it into law.
On Tuesday, 10 Pennsylvania residents filed suit against the state and Corbett, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.-based firm Arnold & Porter LLP.
Among the plaintiffs is Asher Schor, a transgender community member who presents as a man although his identification card lists him as female — a problem that could affect an untold number of transgender citizens.
“The commonwealth’s phantom claims of in-person voter fraud cannot be allowed to trump the very real disenfranchisement of longtime Pennsylvania voters,” said ACLU of PA legal director Witold Walczak. “People need to wake up to the reality that not every voter has or can get photo ID, so making it a requirement will prevent many people from exercising one of our most precious rights.”
The suit argues that the law violates the state constitutional guarantee that elections “shall be free and equal” and contends that the identification-stipulation would need to be added to the state constitution as a new qualification for voting.
It also says the law “irrationally distinguishes” between in-person and absentee voters, as the latter are not required to show or submit a photo ID, but instead must submit a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.
On Monday, lawmakers, led by Reps. John Myers (D-201st Dist.) and Dwight Evans (D-203rd Dist.), introduced a bill to repeal the law.
“There is so little fraud reported in Pennsylvania, it makes one wonder about the true motives of the proponents,” Evans said in a statement.
Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis said the law is “part of the largest legislative effort to turn back the clock on voting rights in our nation in over a century.”
“This law deprives many eligible voters in the commonwealth — disproportionately the poor, minorities, senior citizens, young voters and people with disabilities — of their fundamental right to vote,” she added. “If this law is allowed to stand, it will disenfranchise thousands of voters in Pennsylvania who cannot overcome the law’s many hurdles and will undermine the basic fabric of our democracy.”
Joining the 10 citizens as plaintiffs are the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Homeless Assistance Project.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs asked for an expedited discovery process and requested a trial date in June to allow the case to be heard prior to the November election.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.