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Voter ID Hearing Closes in Pennsylvania

The hearing in the Pennsylvania voter ID case, easily the most important voting rights case before the election, wrapped up in Harrisburg yesterday. Dave Weigel was there, and filed this report on the state’s argument:

Their 800-pound ally: Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that saved Indiana’s voter ID law. Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley closed the state’s argument by quoting that 6-3 decision, written by John Paul Stevens. “The petitioners may make an emotional appeal that may play well to the cameras and to those untrained in the law,” said Cawley. “Pennsylvania law, however, does not support their request for primary injunction.”

Put yourself in Cawley’s position. The petitioners who want to block the state’s new voter ID law produced 14 witnesses. All of them will have some degree of trouble voting if the law survives. These witnesses have been shopped out to TV shows and newspapers—an A1 New York Times story!—to portray Pennsylvania’s law as uniquely cruel. But there’s Supreme Court precedent that appears to back you up.

The problem is that the Supreme Court ruling was ambiguous, and under the current circumstances, there’s compelling logic to the proposition that this law would disenfranchise a generous minority of voters. Indiana’s absentee voting and provisional ballot requirements are simply different than Pennsylvania’s. And the state is trying to punch this through in one election cycle, making it impossible for their Department of Transportation to serve the hundreds of thousands of eligible voters who lack the proper ID. Office hours are limited as it is thanks to budget cuts, and staffers have not been trained on how to deal with ID preparation for the purposes of voting.

This is all being done to fight the spectre of voter fraud, which is pushed by people with known criminal records and a history of falsifying documents. The state of Pennsylvania stipulated before the trial that they have never investigated or found a case of voter fraud. And yet this ID law must be rushed into existence.

The Commonwealth Court judge, Robert Simpson, said he would issue a ruling the week of August 13. Either way it will get appealed to the state Supreme Court, but because there’s a vacancy there, it’s very likely that the Court will split 3-3, leaving Simpson’s ruling to stand. So he really holds the cards here. And the eligible votes of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians hang in the balance.

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David Dayen

David Dayen