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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC: Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Struck Down


On January 17, 2014, Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley released his opinion in Applewhite v. Commonwealth (330-MD-2012), in which he overturned Pennsylvania’s voter ID requirement.  This marked yet another chapter in what has been a controversial and much-debated issue since the law was enacted in 2012.

While Pennsylvania law has long required first-time voters at a particular polling place to show ID before casting a ballot, the 2012 Voter ID Law required all Pennsylvania voters to present “proof of identification” in the form of a compliant photo ID in order to cast a ballot in an election.  While the Voter ID Law was never in effect during an election because of prior injunctions granted by the courts, this ruling permanently halted the implementation of the Voter ID Law.

Judge McGinley based his ruling on the failure to implement the Voter ID Law in a manner that allowed “liberal access rights” to obtain a compliant ID card, as both the law itself and an earlier decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had required.  The opinion placed heavy weight on the estimated number of voters who lack the necessary photo identification cards - citing the logistical issues required in obtaining a compliant form of identification at one of Pennsylvania’s Driver License Centers.  It also found fault with the Secretary of State’s efforts to educate the electorate about how to properly comply with the law.

Notably, however, the judge wrote that the Court had been presented with no evidence that the Voter ID Law was motivated by discriminatory intent, and specifically found that the law was not motivated by an attempt to disenfranchise minorities or Democratic voters.  He thus concluded that there was no equal protection violation by the law, leaving open the possibility that the legislature could craft a law that would pass constitutional muster.

The next act in the Pennsylvania voter ID saga is likely an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

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