Voter ID law not in effect for Pa. primaries

The suspension for the primaries is not likely to change the elections’ outcome

· February 18, 2013, 11:46 pm

Voters in the Pennsylvania primary elections won’t have to show photo identification to cast their ballots this May.

Last week, the Commonwealth agreed to suspend the enforcement of the controversial voter ID law until the lawsuit challenging its constitutionality goes to trial on July 15. As in the November general elections, voters in the primaries — which include municipal and judicial races — will be asked to show a valid photo ID at the polls, but will be able to vote regardless of whether they have it. Valid photo ID includes a Pennsylvania driver’s license, a U.S. passport or a college ID with a valid expiration date.

Though the agreement expands the number of potential voters, it is unlikely to affect the outcome of the primaries, which are expected to see a low turnout due to it being an off year.

There is typically not much overlap between the people who are likely to vote in an off-year primary election and the “casual voters” who would be affected by the ID requirement, pollster and Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick said. Agreeing not to enforce the law was therefore a “low-cost option” for the administration of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is a defendant in the case.

“There’s no advantage politically in terms of enforcing this particular law or implementing it during the primary season,” he said. “Why take on the burden of fighting [for] it and any public backlash?”

Under the law, which was passed last March by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, a voter who fails to show a valid photo ID could cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted only once proof of identity and voter eligibility were provided.

Amid concerns over potential disenfranchisement — especially of low-income, elderly and student voters — several organizations filed suit against the state, which led to a temporary injunction blocking the enforcement of the law in the November election. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled that the state did not do enough to ensure that all eligible voters could obtain valid ID in time for the election.

Opponents of the law, however, applauded the agreement.

“It’s a low-turnout election, but the right to vote is the same regardless of who you’re voting for,” said Vic Walczak, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “Knowing there won’t be an identification requirement will help ensure that county election folks can adjust their process accordingly so no voters are disenfranchised.”

While there may be minor “legal skirmishes” before the trial, the agreement will probably be the last major activity regarding the case before the trial, added Jennifer Clarke, the executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs challenging the law.

Despite the minor effect expected by the announcement, Fels Institute of Government graduate Brett Mandel, who is running for City Controller in Philadelphia, was encouraged by the decision.

“I think it’s good for me to have more and more people come out,” he said. He was encouraged by the possibility that more students may now be able to vote because he felt they are likely to share his views.

“We should be doing everything we can to encourage people [to vote],” he added. “It’s scandalous how few people participate in most of our elections.”

Prior to the November election, there was also concern that confusion over the ID requirements would cause people to stay at home on Election Day, a factor that may still be present in May.

“Almost everyone in the state is unclear about whether the rules are in effect or not,” Borick said. “Unless you’re following very closely, it’s reasonable to think Pennsylvanians are unsure about the law.”

He added, however, that he did not expect confusion to significantly affect the elections.

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