Gov. Tom Corbett put another nail in the coffin of Pennsylvania's voter identification law on Thursday, announcing he would not appeal a judge's decision that the law violated the fundamental right to vote. The Republican governor issued a statement that defended the law, but he also said it needed changes and that he hoped to work with the Legislature on them.
For voting-rights advocates and other opponents of voter-ID laws, the spring is off to an unexpectedly heartening start.
Just last week, a federal court struck down Wisconsin's voter-ID law, ruling that it violated the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. It came on the heels of a similar victory in Arkansas the week before, which followed related victories in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Texas.
Yesterday, proponents of voting rights had reason to celebrate in Pennsylvania, too.
That last point clearly matters -- voter-ID isn't entirely dead in Pennsylvania; it's just been put on ice indefinitely. As Zack Roth reported, "Corbett, who polls suggest faces a tough re-election fight this fall, raised the idea of working with lawmakers to modify the law so that it could pass muster in the courts -- but suggested it wasn't a priority."
If the governor loses his bid for a second term this fall, which seems rather likely given the available evidence, it will a long while before voter-ID returns to the nation's sixth most populous state.
Note that the background on this is fascinating, because of the circuitous path the Pennsylvania law took en route to oblivion.
As we last discussed in January, Corbett and Republican state lawmakers created harsh, new voting restrictions in advance of the 2012 elections, including the voter-ID law intended, supporters claims, to prevent voter fraud. State officials later conceded they had literally no evidence that such fraud exists, but GOP policymakers imposed the new burden anyway.
Just five weeks before the elections, a judge put the voter-ID law on hold, ordering Pennsylvania not to enforce it while the legal proceedings continued. In January, the court took the next step and rejected the law on the merits.
"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," the court concluded. The ruling added that the law "unreasonably burdens the right to vote" and poses "a substantial threat" to hundreds of thousands of eligible Pennsylvania voters.
It was widely assumed that Corbett would appeal, but the GOP governor gave up the fight yesterday afternoon.
For the foreseeable future, this fight is over and voting-rights proponents have prevailed.