Setbacks For Voter ID Laws in Pa., Other States Could Be Short-Lived
Civil rights groups are cheering the injunction placed on the Pennsylvania voter identification law, but their recent victories against state photo ID measures very likely won't last beyond Election Day.
The Pennsylvania law is the latest to lose a court ruling that keeps it from being implemented for Nov. 6; before that, a federal court ruled against Texas' strict photo ID statute. In both cases, the judges ruled that voters who lack the allowed IDs would be disenfranchised.
The Pennsylvania ruling, in particular, turned on the judge's opinion that there wasn't enough time for voters to obtain new IDs before Election Day.
Many legal observers expect the same outcome soon for South Carolina's version of the law, which is before a federal three-judge panel in Washington. Lawyers for the state have acknowledged in court proceedings that it's too near the election to educate voters about new requirement or issue IDs.
But none of these laws, or those in other states, is dead.
Judges in these cases have declined to rule on the constitutionality of the laws. Doing so would deliver a legal death blow. Instead, judges have signaled that the laws would withstand scrutiny if states can ensure that the vast majority of voters have easier access to free IDs.
National attention has been trained on the Pennsylvania law and other states that have passed a range of Republican-led ID measures, which could affect turnout in the November elections.
Democrats and civil rights groups say the measures are aimed at suppressing the turnout of minorities and others who tend to vote for Democrats. Proponents deny the accusation and insist the measures are intended to prevent election fraud.
After Election Day, many of these measures could be enacted; on that, legal scholars on both sides of the debate agree.
"It's a short-term victory for opponents of these laws, but long-term prospects for opposing voter ID in court are quite dim in most places," says Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the Election Law blog.
Hasen says he believes voter ID laws would particularly disenfranchise minorities and don't prevent in-person voter fraud.
"If you look at most states where there have been challenges to these laws, they have been upheld," Hasen says.
The exception is Wisconsin's voter ID law, which a state judge ruled unconstitutional but is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Given the Pennsylvania ruling, photo ID laws will be in force in 12 states on Election Day.
Hans von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation fellow and former attorney in the voting-rights division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration, says "these cases have been almost uniformly unsuccessful" in arguing that the laws are unconstitutional.
Spakovsky added: "I expect the [Texas] case to be overturned by Supreme Court. And the Wisconsin case probably too eventually. Opponents to voter ID have a long-term loss record and evidence of turnout in states like [Georgia] and Indiana show their disenfranchisement claims are untrue."