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Judge strikes down Pennsylvania voter ID law, calls it burdensome

By Allie Malloy, CNN
updated 12:15 PM EST, Fri January 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Judge strikes down Pennsylvania's voter ID law
  • Judge says law places "unreasonable burden" on voters
  • Supporters argue law would prevent voter fraud
  • Ruling cites "no evidence of ... in-person voter fraud"

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania judge Friday struck down a law requiring voters in the state to show photo identification at the polls, saying the requirement imposed "unreasonable burden" on voters and represented "a legislative disconnect from reality."

State Judge Bernard McGinley's ruling comes nearly two years after civil and voters' rights groups challenged the law, which Gov. Tom Corbett signed in March 2012, that never went into effect because of the court case.

"Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal," McGinley said in his ruling.

Joseph Cercaine, lead organizer of PA Voting Rights Coalition, called the ruling a victory for those who fought against what he called the hardships imposed by the requirements of Act 18, as the law is called.

"The issue of voter ID has served to mobilize the electorate in PA about the issue of voting rights in general as well as the specific of the mandate of Act 18. So it's served a beneficial purpose in some ways but it really did threaten to put up barricades for many voters in PA that didn't have the required ID," he said.

Cercaine said the law would have "cost a significant amount of money" for municipalities to implement, as well as for colleges and universities to change student IDs.

"This is a tremendous relief," he said.

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, called the decision a "huge victory for democracy."

"We are glad that the hundreds of thousands of voters that would have been disenfranchised by this law are no longer going to be affected had it gone into effect," he said.

But David Almasi, executive director for the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C.-based group which backed the law, believes the issue will end up before the state's highest court.

"We've seen places that this has been enforced like Georgia where this has been enacted and practiced and there has been an increase in minority voting," he said. "This law has never been given the opportunity to be in place in Pennsylvania. We have never seen the terrible things that they say will happen . ... People are burdened by a lot of things -- to go on an airplane, to go into a government building. It's something you need to have in the 21st century. People are signing up for Obamacare with IDs, why don't we require them for something as simple as voting."

Pennsylvania was one of 31 states with some form of voter ID measure in place; and one of only a handful to require it to be a photo ID.

Supporters contend the law would prevent voter fraud.

But the judge wrote that there was "no evidence of the existence of in-person voter fraud in the state or that in-person voter fraud was likely to occur in the upcoming election."

"Respondents also failed to establish a nexus between photo identification -- showing voters are who they say they are, and the integrity of elections -- when prior elections accepted a number of types of proof to verify identify," McGinley wrote. "The burdens the Voter ID Law entails are unnecessary and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. And the record is rife with testimony from numerous Pennsylvania voters whose right to vote will be -- and indeed already has been -- denied or substantially and unnecessarily burdened by the Voter ID law."

The controversial law has languished in a legal limbo since Corbett, a Republican, signed it in March 2012.

Corbett's office has not returned calls seeking comment.

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