Ninety-one-year-old Dave Silverman hangs his cane on the booth while voting in State College, Pa., Nov. 5, 2013.
Nabil K. Mark/AP

Pennsylvania voter ID law struck down


A Pennsylvania judge struck down the state’s voter ID law Friday, finding it puts an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the law in 2012. After civil rights groups sued, it was blocked from going into effect before the 2012 election.

“This ruling is a monumental victory for those who believe that in a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all people. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens who lack one of the limited forms of acceptable photo ID can now cast their ballots without burdensome obstacles,” said Advancement Project co-director Penda D. Hair, whose group was among those that challenged the law. 

The law’s challengers brought evidence during the trial that as many as 750,000 Pennsylvanians—disproportionately black and Hispanic—lack a photo ID.

Rick Hasen, a prominent election law expert and a professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote that the ruling contains things for both opponents and supporters of voter ID to be leased with.

On the one hand, Judge Bernard McGinley found no evidence the law was necessary either to prevent fraud or to keep public confidence in the fairness of the election process. That could deal a blow to future attempts to portray voter ID as a reasonable effort to stop fraud. 

But McGinley also found that the law was not motivated by an effort to disenfranchise minorities–even though a top Pennsylvania Republican said in 2012 that the law would help deliver the state to Mitt Romney. That finding could make it harder for opponents of voter ID to make the case that such laws are enacted with a racially discriminatory intent.

The state is expected to appeal the ruling to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

The impact of Friday’s decision on the national fight over voter ID may be limited. The law was challengted under Pennsylvania’s state constitution, which guarantees the right to vote, not under the federal Voting Rights Act.

A bipartisan group of members of Congress on Thursday unveiled a proposed fix for the Voting Rights Act, which was badly weakened by a Supreme Court ruling last June.

MSNBC Live, 1/17/14, 1:02 PM ET

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Pennsylvania has struck down a law requiring voters to present ID at voting locations. reporter Zachary Roth explains the significance of this action.

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Pennsylvania voter ID law struck down