Corbett abandons appeal of voter ID ruling

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett speaks during a news conference at the Philadelphia Zoo, Wednesday, May 7, 2014, in Philadelphia. The zoo opened a see-through mesh pathway called Big Cat Crossing and is part of a national trend called animal rotation that zoos use to enrich the experience of both creatures and guests. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett speaks during a news conference at the Philadelphia Zoo, Wednesday, May 7, 2014, in Philadelphia. The zoo opened a see-through mesh pathway called Big Cat Crossing and is part of a national trend called animal rotation that zoos use to enrich the experience of both creatures and guests. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Posted: May 10, 2014

HARRISBURG - Gov. Corbett dropped his battle Thursday to keep intact the two-year-old law requiring Pennsylvanians to show a state-approved photo ID before voting.

In a statement, Corbett said he would not ask the state Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that declared the law unconstitutional. But the governor defended its intent and said his administration would work with the legislature to make the necessary changes for the law to pass judicial muster.

"A photo identification requirement is a sensible and reasonable measure for the commonwealth to reassure the public that everyone who votes is registered and eligible to cast a ballot," he said.

Corbett said he chose not to move forward because rulings thus far had made clear there was no satisfactory administrative fix to the voter ID law, and that the statute would have to be amended.

But legislative officials indicated no immediate appetite for reopening the debate on the controversial law, which passed along party lines in March 2012.

"The governor made the right call not to appeal," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican leadership. "It's time to move away from this divisive issue, ensure stronger voter accountability and better access through changes like online registration."

The governor's decision was a victory for the ACLU and civil rights groups that had challenged the law. Their May 2012 lawsuit against the commonwealth said it denied citizens, particularly the elderly, minorities and the poor, the right to vote.

"Today's decision is a victory for keeping Pennsylvania elections free, fair, and accessible for all voters," said Marian K. Schneider, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a Washington-based voting rights group among the organizations representing the plaintiffs.

Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia, called it the end of a process that frustrated voters for multiple election cycles.

"There is no waiting around for a new decision, no new rollout, and no question that people can now cast their votes," she said. "This law is dead."

The lead plaintiff in the case was 95-year-old Viviette Applewhite of Philadelphia. Because of health reasons, Applewhite was unavailable to comment on the ruling, according to an ACLU spokeswoman.

Another plaintiff, Wilola Lee, declared: "It's a great day."

Lee, 61, who lives in Germantown, said she has been without an ID card since her Georgia birth certificate was destroyed in a fire. Georgia officials have been unable to provide her with an official replacement, and that has kept her from getting a state-approved photo ID that would have been required at Pennsylvania polls.

"I vote every election," said Lee, who has lived in Philadelphia since 1957.

When Corbett signed the law in March 2012, it was considered among the strictest in the nation because it relied on a limited number of state-approved forms of photo identification. He and other supporters said it would prevent in-person voter fraud.

But the administration was never able to produce any evidence of voter fraud.

And since the challenge was filed, the case had bounced from court to court, while the law - never fully implemented - became a political flash point.

A statement by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) to Republican faithful during the 2012 presidential campaign cast the law as a political tool to "allow" GOP candidate Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania in November election.

And after each unfavorable ruling, the Corbett administration scrambled to address court concerns, among them issuing new IDs with less stringent requirements.

The decision not to seek Supreme Court review came weeks after Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley upheld his January ruling striking down the law as unconstitutional.

"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election," said McGinley in his ruling. "The voter ID law does not further this goal."

Judges in four other states have struck down similar voter ID laws, most recently in Wisconsin.

The administration had spent about $6 million in state and federal funds to educate voters about the law.


aworden@phillynews.com

717-783-2584 @inkyamy

www.inquirer.com/phillydawg

www.inquirer.com/commonwealthconfidentialInquirer staff writer Bob Moran contributed to this article.

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