Skip to main content area Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

Penn Law Professors Kermit Roosevelt and Seth Kreimer comments on voter ID ruling

October 02, 2012

University of Pennsylvania Law School Professors Kermit Roosevelt and Seth Kreimer Tuesday praised a Commonwealth Court judge’s decision to block implementation of Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law before the Nov. 6 presidential election, saying it was the “correct ruling” and part of a historic tradition of defending voting rights in Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. Tuesday cited “disenfranchisement” concerns in issuing his ruling on the state’s efforts to make it easier to get a valid photo ID, as well as possible hurdles for those seeking proper identification.

The challenge to the six-month-old law is one of several across the country to laws – largely backed by Republican legislators – requiring voters to show photo identification.

Republicans say the laws are necessary to prevent election fraud. But Democrats, who in Pennsylvania joined up with the AARP, NAACP and other plaintiffs in opposition, claim residents could be blocked from exercising their right to vote.

 Roosevelt, an expert in constitutional law, offered the following commentary:

“Looking at who passes these laws (Republican legislatures) and who doesn’t have the required ID (Democratic-leaning populations) it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there are partisan motives behind the enactments, especially given the minimal evidence of in-person voter fraud and the lack of attention to the more serious problem of absentee-ballot fraud—where, however, voting restrictions would affect a Republican-leaning demographic. What needs to be understood about these laws is that they don’t need to make it impossible for anyone to vote in order to have a significant effect. Simply making it more difficult will discourage some number of people from voting, and if you place that burden on a demographic that leans one way, then you help out the other party.”

Roosevelt added: “The US Supreme Court has said that voter ID laws are generally permissible. But that wasn’t the question in Pennsylvania; the question here was whether, given the mistakes the state has already made in its attempt to let people get the required IDs, the requirement could be enforced for an election to be held in just over a month. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court suggested that it was not impressed by the state’s promises to get it right next time, and the judge went along with its strong hint. This was the correct ruling. Rushing the law into effect would increase the burden it places on qualified voters.”

Kreimer, the Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law and a constitutional expert who consulted with the ACLU, one of the plaintiffs in the case, provided the following analysis:

“In 1776, Pennsylvania’s first constitution led the nation in extending the right to vote to “all free men” regardless of race or property.  In 1868, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court observed of the Pennsylvania Constitution: “the right of suffrage is with us indefeasible” (McCafferty v. Guyer). In 1896, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the right to vote is “a fundamental political right because preservative of all other rights” (Yick Wo v. Hopkins). With this most recent decision, the Pennsylvania courts have proved worthy stewards of this tradition.”

He added: “Whatever one thinks of the real motivation for the Voter ID law adopted by the Republican majority of the state legislature, the Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,– and now Judge Simpson– have taken the legislative majority at its official word that the statute is not designed to abridge or burden the right to vote. The statute  directed that  ‘any registered elector’ should be able to obtain the required papers by ‘declaring under oath or affirmation that the elector does not possess proof of identification.’  The Corbett administration, for its own reasons, has deployed a series of shifting standards, but  has not followed the command of the statute. It has not made available the prescribed easy opportunity to obtain identification.  Judge Simpson’s decision today appropriately recognized that fact. He has ordered that Pennsylvania voters may continue to cast ballots without presenting identification that many find effectively unavailable.

“Judge Simpson’s ruling means that all of Pennsylvania’s registered voters will be able to participate this November in the “free and equal election” that our state Constitution guarantees. If the Corbett  administration appeals I have every expectation that Judge Simpson’s decision will be sustained.”