Court Blocks Pennsylvania Voter ID Law, As Six Other States Revive Their Own

For the third consecutive election, Pennsylvania’s controversial law requiring photo identification to vote will likely not apply, after a state court blocked the law again Friday. The court held once again that the law is arguably unconstitutional, and cannot be applied until a trial determines once and for all if the law is valid.

An initial ruling last October held that the law did not ensure “liberal access” to the IDs needed to vote, and thus could potentially lead to disfranchisement, particularly for minorities, the poor, and the elderly. Studies leading up to the ruling found that more than 750,000 Pennsylvanians could be disfranchised by the law, and in Philadelphia, 18 percent of voters lacked proper ID. And Republican legislators have repeatedly admitted that voter ID laws help suppress the Democratic vote.

Friday’s ruling based on the state Constitution means that law likely won’t apply at least for another election. But many other states whose voter ID laws were or would have been blocked by the federal Voting Rights Act may soon see voter ID laws back in effect. In the days and weeks after the Supreme Court invalidated the VRA provision that designated which jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination are subject to federal “preclearance,” those very jurisdictions rushed to enact suppressive laws and acts. In North Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia, states are moving forward with voter ID laws that were or would have been blocked by preclearance, with many to go into effect by early 2014 if not stopped by legal challenge. States are also reviving other suppressive measures in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, including a voter purge in Florida, and a raft of other restrictive measures in North Carolina.

With Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act defunct until Congress develops a new formula for determining which sections are subject to preclearance, Attorney General Eric Holder has turned to another section of the Voting Rights Act that allows a challenge based on specific recent evidence of intentional racial discrimination. Thus far, he has sued Texas under Section 3, and some have already asked him to do the same in other states. And less than 24 hours after Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed North Carolina’s onerous law, several individuals and civil rights groups launched legal challenges to that law, including a 92-year-old who once withstood literacy tests.