On Friday, Judge Bernard L. McGinley of the Commonwealth Court struck down a state statute requiring Pennsylvania voters to show some form of photo ID at the polls. The requirement, which was a centerpiece of the state’s 2012 voter ID law, was ruled unconstitutional by the judge, who deemed it an unreasonable barrier to Pennsylvanian citizens’ fundamental right to vote. Washington Post reports: “Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID law does not further this goal,” McGinley wrote in a 103-page decision. McGinley’s ruling sets up a showdown in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Challenges to new voter ID laws have been a part of an escalating legal battle across the country during the past two years. Critics say the laws—passed by eight states in 2011—can hurt turnout, primarily among minority voters. Supporters of the measures—seven of which were signed by Republican governors and one by an independent—said they were needed to combat voter fraud. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March 2012. It had been delayed by the courts and was not implemented in the 2012 election.The past few years have seen a trend of controversial restrictions to voting rights and access. The Supreme Court invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act in June 2013, freeing nine historically discriminatory states to change their election laws without federal approval. Soon after, the Justice Department sued Texas and North Carolina over their restrictive voter ID laws; officials say these laws threaten the rights of minority voters.
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.