The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 20, 2012

Court's unfortunate punt on voter ID

Daily Item

---- — "Seven weeks before an election, the voters are entitled to know the rules."

-- Supreme Court Justice Debra McCloskey Todd

"I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others, as was every single Justice on this esteemed Court. I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote."

-- Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday voted 4-2 to send the state's voter identification law back to the Commonwealth Court. If the lower court judge, who has already given his blessing to the law, finds the state is doing a satisfactory job implementing the new requirements, the law will stand.

The two judges who dissented -- Justice Debra McCloskey Todd and Justice Seamus McCaffery -- would have overturned the law.

Their reasoning is much more sound.

Justice Todd argued convincingly that there is too little time before the election for the court system to confidently predict that the state will be able to manage the law effectively.

Chief Justice Seamus McCaffery noted that the state has offered no evidence of a problem that needs to be corrected by the law and has been unable to quantify how many people will be disenfranchised by the law.

McCaffery added that the state's frantic scramble to change the requirements for people to obtain identification required by the law could be interpreted as an admission that the efforts to provide voter ID have been failing.

The majority of the court decided to give Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson until Oct. 2 to decide if the state is ready for voter ID.

The justices punted the final decision but suggested that the challenge of effectively implementing the identification requirements in time for the Nov. 6 election raised worrying questions about the constitutionality of the law. Justices Todd and McCaffery correctly recognized that their positions on the highest court in the Commonwealth required that they ensure elections remain free of political taint and that all voters have the opportunity to participate. It is unfortunate that the majority of the court did not take the opportunity to make a historic stand in defense of voters' rights.