Elections Are Over, But Voter ID Is Not

PHOTO: Sharan Rahman (R) hands out I Voted Today! stickers to voters at a downtown health center on November 6, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Sharan Rahman (R) hands out 'I Voted Today!' stickers to voters at a downtown health center on November 6, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A Pennsylvania court may rule this week on the legality of the state's controversial new voter identification law.

Passed last spring without a single Democratic vote, the law was blocked before the presidential election by a judge who said the state had not done enough to ensure people who needed IDs got them. The state offered free IDs, but there were limited locations and hours to obtain them, opponents argued.

That injunction didn't stop the state from putting up Spanish-language billboards urging people to show ID at the polls, though.

The law eventually made its way to Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, which ordered the Commonwealth Court to examine its constitutionality.

The trial began this week and could go either way. If the court sides in favor of the law, its opponents will likely appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The issue is fraught with emotion and comes just after the U.S. Supreme Court crippled a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

The court said a formula used to decide which places need approval to change their voting laws needs to be updated. But lawmakers are highly unlikely to agree on a new formula anytime soon. That means it will be easier for states to change their voting laws and add voter ID requirements.

The law was originally put in place to protect African-American voters in the South against discrimination. But voting rights advocates say the law's protections are needed now more than ever, and not just in the South, but in places like Pennsylvania, too.

Getting an ID can be prohibitively time-consuming and expensive, a report by the Brennan Center pointed out. For example, more than 500,000 eligible Latino voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing center that is open more than two days per week. For people with inflexible work schedules or those who rely on public transportation, that can be a real hurdle.

In-person voter fraud is almost nonexistent. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers in more than half the states in the country from trying to pass stricter voting laws - from voter ID requirements to restricted early voting - this year alone. Republican lawmakers in states from Pennsylvania to Virginia say voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraudulent ballots from being cast.

Organizations like New York University's Brennan Center for Justice and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are pushing back. They say the laws disadvantage minority citizens who may not have the type of identification these laws require - and who also tend to vote Democratic.