Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s (R) announcement on Thursday that he will not appeal a court decision striking his state’s voter ID law is a remarkable concession from a Republican governor who faces a difficult reelection fight in November. Voter ID, which disproportionately disenfranchises groups such as young voters, voters of color and low-income voters — all of which tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans — can potentially swing a close election in the Republican candidate’s favor. Indeed, after Pennsylvania’s unconstitutional voter ID law was enacted in 2012, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) predicted that it will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Corbett’s announcement comes less than two weeks after a federal court in Wisconsin invalidated that state’s voter ID law. The primary argument supporting voter ID is that voters should be required to show photo identification at the polls to ward off voter fraud, but the kind of fraud targeted by voter ID laws is virtually non-existent. As Judge Lynn Adelman explained in his decision striking down the Wisconsin law, the law’s defenders “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”
Adelman’s decision will still need to survive contact with the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — and, potentially, with a Supreme Court that struck down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act last year. A challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law is also pending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where members of that court’s conservative majority appeared surprisingly open to the argument that the law is problematic.
The upshot of the Pennsylvania and Wisconsin court decisions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, is that Virginia is currently the only presidential battleground state that still has a voter ID law in effect — although two more such laws are scheduled to take effect by 2016 in North Carolina and New Hampshire. Colorado and Michigan ask voters to show ID but do not require it to vote. Florida requires voters without ID to cast a provisional ballot, but the ballot is still counted so long as “the signature on the provisional ballot envelope matches the signature on [the voter’s] registration application.” Ohio requires voters to show proof of identity, but that proof does not necessarily have to be a photo ID.
Under a comprehensive voter suppression law signed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R), a strict voter ID law goes into effect in that state in 2016. A voter ID law is also scheduled to go into effect in New Hampshire in 2015.
There is a decent chance that these laws will eventually be struck down by the courts, however. Indeed, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit last September seeking to block several parts of North Carolina’s voter suppression law. Virginia and North Carolina are in the Fourth Circuit, while New Hampshire is in the First Circuit — both of which are significantly less conservative than the appeals court that will consider Adelman’s ruling.