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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

PA's Voter ID Law: Who is Challenging and Why?

Hello, and welcome back to my election law blog. Today’s post will review Part II of my discussion on the recent voter identification bill passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in March 2012.

There has been a growing trend among states to enact voter ID laws, which have fomented controversy with accusations of Republican legislatures disenfranchising different classes of voters that typically support Democratic candidates. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan organization located at the New York University School of Law, eight states have passed specific legislation dealing with photo identification requirements (Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania)[1].

The controversy reached the Keystone State when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of PA filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on May 1, 2012 to challenge the state’s photo identification requirement. Before we delve into the ACLU's lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, let us first look at the rationale behind the creation of Pennsylvania's voter identification bill.

The Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act

On March 15, 2012, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed the Pennsylvania Voter Identification Protection Act (House Bill 934) into law.  The primary drafter and sponsor, Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County), stated that the purpose of the bill is to protect voters. When asked about the rationale for the bill, Rep. Metcalfe said, "I think every American citizen deserves to have their vote protected from the forces of corruption, from individuals who would to undermine their vote, to undercut their vote, to cancel it out with fraudulently cast votes...[2]“Rep. Metcalfe drafted the Pennsylvania law after an Indiana photo identification bill that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 2008. 


In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 443 US 181 (2008), the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Indiana photo identification bill did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s right to vote provision or the Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. §1973) and was therefore constitutional. In a 6-3 decision (opinion written by Justice Stevens), the Court held that Indiana had a valid interest in preventing voter fraud and that the state’s “even handed restrictions” protected the “integrity and reliability of the electoral process.” The Court said that an inconvenience of a DMV trip, document gathering, and the process of getting a photograph do not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote or a “significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.” Crawford is the seminal case on the issue of the extent to which state legislatures can constitutionally require photo ID requirements. 

Crawford remains good law because it is the most recent case in which the Supreme Court has ruled on state legislatures passing photo ID requirements for voting. For individuals hoping to challenge future laws in federal court, the Court does not view the inconvenience of a DMV trip, document gathering, and the process of getting a photograph as a substantial burden on the right to vote or a "significant increase over the usual burdens of voting."  

Plaintiffs’ Lawsuit

The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and Arnold & Porter LLP represent several Pennsylvania voters that have filed suit on the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter ID bill because of their concern that the bill’s ID requirement affects their voting rights. The ID bill affects the plaintiffs in a variety of ways.  Viviette Applewhite has been unable to receive a birth certificate to achieve a photo ID; Wilola Shinholster Lee, Gloria Cuttino, and Dorothy Barksdale are three African-American women born under the Jim Crow laws of the South have been unable to receive a photo ID because their respective states have no record of their birth; Grover Freeland, cannot use his veteran ID card as a form of ID under PA’s bill; Nadine Marsh has never been able to receive a photo ID because the Commonwealth has no record of her birth; Joyce Block was refused a photo ID because the only documentation of the change of her name through marriage is a marriage certificate in Hebrew, which PennDOT could not translate; Bea Bookler, who is unable to travel to a Drivers’ License Center; and “Asher” Schor has been affected because he is a transgender man but has photo ID that depicts him as a woman.

The plaintiff’s lawsuit discusses several different legal issues. First, the plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges that the photo ID law unduly burdens the fundamental right to vote. Second, the lawsuit alleges that the voter ID law violates the Equal Protection guarantees of Article I, Section 1 and 26 of the PA Constitution. Finally, the lawsuit asserts that the voter ID adds an improper qualification to vote, which is a violation of Article VII, Section 1 of the PA Constitution.

Count One

The right to vote is deemed fundamental under the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution. The United States Supreme Court has determined a right to be fundamental must be “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty[3]” or “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition[4].” Therefore any law that impacts an individual's right to vote must stand up to "strict scrutiny” or in order for the law to stand, the government must provide a compelling interest for the law's existence. If a court cannot find a compelling governmental interest, then the law must invalidated as a violation of the United States Constitution.

The plaintiffs argue that the photo identification requirement is a violation of several clauses in the Pennsylvania Constitution. In Count One, the plaintiffs argue that the requirement violates Article I, Section 5, which states that all elections must be “free and equal.” The plaintiffs’ argument cites Winston v. Moore, 244 Pa. 447, 457, 91 A. 520,523 (Pa. 1914), in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court defined "free and equal" as "when every voter has the same right as any other voter; when each voter under the law has the right to cast his ballot and have it honestly counted; when the regulation of the right to exercise the franchise does not deny the franchise itself, or make it so difficult as to amount to a denial..."

The plaintiffs believe that the photo identification requirement does not meet the standard set by Article I, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because it places barriers that are difficult or impossible to reach for some voters and therefore, “deny the franchise itself or make it so difficult as to amount to a denial[5].” The plaintiffs set forth several examples of the Commonwealth’s inconsistent operating procedure in obtaining photo identification.

PA’s Birth Certificate Requirement

Four of the plaintiffs (Applewhite, Lee, Cuttino, and Barksdale) have sued because of the Commonwealth’s birth certificate requirement to obtain a photo ID. Like many registered voters in PA, these four women have no record of their birth. Ms. Applewhite has never been able to receive a birth certificate despite living in Philadelphia all of her life, while Ms. Lee, Ms. Cuttino, and Ms. Barksdale were born under the Jim Crow laws of the South, where births of African-Americans were regularly not recorded. If a birth certificate is required to obtain photo identification and photo identification is required to vote, then these women and others unable to obtain a birth certificate cannot vote in Pennsylvania.

It should also be noted that when this legislation was passed, there was a cost to obtaining a birth certificate in Pennsylvania. However, since the lawsuit has been filed in Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania has eliminated the 10$ cost of obtaining a birth certificate if the registered voter was born in the Commonwealth. That being said, other states require payment for birth certificates. For example, in Ohio, a birth certificate costs $21.50. In New Jersey, the cost of obtaining a birth certificate differs by county. Because of the potential costs associated with obtaining a birth certificate, the plaintiff’s lawsuit alleges that the photo ID requirement is an unconstitutional poll tax.

Poll taxes in federal elections were deemed unconstitutional with the passage of the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1964. A poll tax is defined as a tax paid as a prerequisite for voting in an election. In United States history, poll taxes began to proliferate during the Reconstruction Era as a way to discourage newly enfranchised free blacks from voting.  Soon after the amendment’s passage, the Supreme Court incorporated the 24th Amendment to the states via the 14th Amendment. As a result, the United States Constitution forbids the use of a poll tax in any election in the United States.

While the cost of obtaining a birth certificate may be relatively low, depending on the state, poll taxes in the 1960s were as low as one to two dollars in southern states and those taxes were held unconstitutional. With prices adjusted for inflation, two dollars in the 1960s is about 15 dollars today. The United States Supreme Court, in its poll tax cases, focused on the fact that personal expenditure of money as a prerequisite to voting was unconstitutional, regardless of the cost. See Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966).

Inconsistent Operation of Photo License Centers

The plaintiffs allege that the photo ID requirement violates the “free and equal” clause because the plaintiffs belong to a class of individuals that have difficulty accessing photo license centers across the Commonwealth. The lawsuit alleges that the time and ability needed to reach a photo license center puts a disadvantage on the poor, disabled, and elderly. Under Pennsylvania law, an individual wanting to obtain photo identification must be present at a photo license center. According to the plaintiffs, it is much more difficult for the poor, disabled, and elderly to obtain photo identification because of inability to travel to photo license centers to obtain ID.
The plaintiffs also allege that Pennsylvania’s inconsistent operation of photo license centers increases the hardship of registered voters who must obtain a photo ID to vote. As of July 2012, Pennsylvania operates photo license centers in 58 of 67 counties. Each center’s hours of operation vary. For example, while the Philadelphia County and Allegheny County locations operate from 8:30am to 4:15pm most days, the Columbia County location in Berwick is only open two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays.

No Compelling Governmental Interest

Because the right to vote has been deemed fundamental by both the United States Supreme Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, any law that impacts an individual’s right to vote must stand up to “strict scrutiny.” In order for the law to stand, the government must provide a compelling interest.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the Commonwealth alleges that the law is not based on a compelling governmental interest. The plaintiffs contend that the Commonwealth failed to identify any compelling governmental interest during the creation of the law and that the Commonwealth identified no evidence of voter fraud addressed by the new photo ID requirements. The plaintiffs believe that because the Commonwealth failed to provide any evidence of voter fraud, there can be no compelling government interest.

Count Two

Count Two of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleges that the photo identification requirement violates the equal protection guarantees of Article I, Sections 1 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Article I, Section 1 states, “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.” Article I, Section 26 states, “Neither the Commonwealth nor any political subdivision thereof shall deny to any person the enjoyment of any civil right, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right.”

The plaintiffs argue that these guarantees along with the aforementioned Article I, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provide a equal protection to all and that any “inconveniences” on the right to vote must “bear upon all in the same way under similar circumstances[6].”

The plaintiffs allege that the photo identification bill does not meet the standard set by the Pennsylvania Constitution because it places barriers that are difficult or impossible to overcome for the class of affected registered voters and therefore, denies them the ability to vote and have their vote counted like other voters who have photo identification. The plaintiffs contend that because Pennsylvania lacks uniformity in the operation of its photo license centers, the new law disadvantages individuals who cannot easily access PennDOT ID centers, thus treating this class of voters differently than registered voters with photo identification.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit cited a study from the PA Department of State that estimated that 80,000 to 90,000 registered voters will need to obtain a photo ID to vote this November. However, in an updated study by the PA Department of State released on July 3, 2012, the Commonwealth noted that roughly 750,000 registered voters or 9.2% of all Pennsylvania voters lack state issued photo identification[7]. Within this number are roughly 187,000 individuals or 25% who are registered to vote in the Philadelphia alone[8].

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit also argues that the photo identification bill violates the PA Constitution’s equal protection guarantees because the bill treats absentee voters differently than voters lacking photo identification who vote at a polling place. Under the photo identification bill, absentee voters are not required to send a photocopy of photo identification when mailing their ballot to their county election board. The only identification requirement for an absentee voter is the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number. The plaintiffs believe that this difference violates the equal protection guarantees because absentee voters are not subject to the burdens imposed on similarly situated non-absentee voters. The plaintiffs also tie this argument with Count One, believing that if the government has a compelling interest in curbing voter fraud, the photo ID law does not meet this standard because fraud is more likely to occur when an individual is voting without supervision by a poll worker.

Count Three

Finally, count three alleges that the photo ID requirement is an unconstitutional qualification to vote in Pennsylvania. Article VII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides an exclusive list of qualifications to vote in Pennsylvania. In order to vote in Pennsylvania, an individual must be a citizen of the United States, over the age of eighteen, a resident of Pennsylvania, and a resident of the election district in which the person seeks to vote.

To add another qualification to vote, it must be created through the state constitutional amendment process. Thus, the plaintiffs allege that the statutory photo ID requirement acts as an instrumentality that qualifies the constitutional requirements to vote in PA. Hence, the statute violates the PA Constitution’s amendment process, if upheld as a qualification to vote. The plaintiffs allege that the photo ID law creates an additional qualification to vote – possession of a photo ID. Without a photo ID presented at a polling place, an individual may vote provisionally, but in order to see their vote counted, that voter must provide photo identification at their county board of elections office. Nevertheless, photo identification is mandatory and therefore, a qualification to vote.

The plaintiffs cite a case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1868 where a man arrived to his polling place only to be told by the polling place judge that he was disqualified from voting due to his desertion status in the Civil War. In McCafferty v. Guyer, 59 Pa. 109 (Pa.1868), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held the Act of June 4th, 1866, which disqualified any man from voting in Pennsylvania if they held deserter status, unconstitutional. The majority opinion by Justice Strong stated,

Can then the legislature take away from an elector his right to vote, while he possesses all the qualifications required by the Constitution? This is the question now before us. When a citizen goes to the polls on an election day with the Constitution in his hand, and presents it as giving him a right to vote, can he be told, "true, you have every qualification that instrument requires. It declares you entitled to the right of an elector, but an Act of Assembly forbids your vote, and therefore it cannot be received." If so, the legislative power is superior to the organic law of the state, and the legislature, instead of being controlled by it, may mould the Constitution at their pleasure. Such is not the law. A right conferred by the Constitution is beyond the reach of legislative interference. If it were not so, there would be nothing stable; there would be no security for any right[9].

Do the Plaintiffs Have a Case?

In this section, I am going to take a look at the merits of the plaintiffs’ argument and attempt to find some possible strengths and weaknesses in their challenge of the Pennsylvania voter ID statute.

In regards to Count Three, the plaintiffs may have trouble convincing the Commonwealth Court that the photo ID requirement should be struck down because the PA Supreme Court recognizes the legislature’s role in regulating elections. Despite the decision made in McCafferty, the PA Supreme Court upheld the state legislature’s attempt to disenfranchise incarcerated felons, despite no direct provision of incarcerated felon disenfranchisement in Article VII, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Counts One and Two stem from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Winston v. Moore, which interpreted the “free and equal” clause of Article I, Section 5 as prohibiting any regulation on an individual’s right to vote if the regulation denies the franchise itself, or “makes it so difficult as to amount to a denial.[10]  However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court narrowed their interpretation of the “free and equal” clause, stating that,
This undoubted legislative power is left by the Constitution to a discretion unfettered by rule or proviso, save the single injunction “that elections shall be free and equal.” But to whom are the elections free? They are free only to the qualified electors of the Commonwealth.... There must be a means of distinguishing the qualified from the unqualified ...and therefore the legislature must establish ... the means of ascertaining who are and who are not the qualified electors....[11]
The Pennsylvania Election Code defines ‘qualified elector’ as: An applicant who possesses all of the qualifications for voting prescribed by the Constitution of Pennsylvania and the laws of this Commonwealth or who, being otherwise qualified by continued residence in the election district, obtains such qualifications before the next ensuing election[12].

In other words, anyone who fits the qualifications to vote by both the Pennsylvania Constitution and Pennsylvania statute is a qualified elector. In Mixon v. Commonwealth, the PA Supreme Court held that incarcerated felons were not qualified electors. However, neither the state Supreme Court nor the Pennsylvania state legislature have defined registered voters lacking photo identification as disqualified electors[13]. In fact, voters without photo identification cannot be identified as disqualified electors because those voters are still legally entitled to vote. If a registered voter lacks photo identification at the polling place, they may still vote provisionally and their vote may be counted if they obtain photo ID within six days after Election Day and they provide that information at their County Board of Elections. The legislative intent of the bill was not to disqualify voters once they arrive to the polling place, which was different from the intent to disqualify incarcerated felons.

The plaintiffs may have an argument that the photo identification requirement violates the “free and equal” clause of Article I, Section 5 because voters with and without photo identification, so long as they fit the parameters of the Pennsylvania Constitution and are not incarcerated felons, are qualified electors. By treating qualified electors differently and making it so difficult for some that they cannot obtain photo ID, they violate the “free and equal” clause of Article I, Section 5.

The plaintiffs have a strong argument in calling the photo identification requirement a poll tax because of the birth certificate requirement to obtain a photo ID in Pennsylvania. While it is Commonwealth policy to provide free photo IDs to any individual wanting to obtain one for the purposes of voting, registered voters may need to pay fees in order to acquire the required paperwork to obtain the photo ID. Despite the fact that the Commonwealth eliminated the ten dollar cost in purchasing a birth certificate copy, anyone without a birth certificate who was born outside of Pennsylvania would have to pay any fees mandated by their birth state.

If the plaintiffs lose the case in the Pennsylvania courts, they would have a last ditch effort to take the case through the federal courts by challenging the voter ID bill on federal constitutional grounds. While getting an unconstitutional finding from the federal courts would be difficult due to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford, the plaintiffs challenging the PA photo ID requirement have a stronger case than in Crawford.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Stevens made special note of the plaintiffs in Crawford, noting that many of the plaintiffs were not substantially burdened by Indiana’s photo identification requirement[14]. The court noted that while the plaintiffs argued that it would be difficult for the poor to obtain photo identification, the plaintiffs never included one specific case.[15] The majority opinion seems to find the poll tax argument somewhat persuasive[16], but the opinion also states that the lack of evidence on the numbers of potential disenfranchised voters makes it very difficult to quantify the harm caused by Indiana’s photo ID requirement, which also makes it difficult to find the Indiana photo ID requirement unconstitutional[17].

This is not the case with the Pennsylvania voter ID bill. As mentioned above, a study done by the Pennsylvania Department of State found nearly 750,000 registered voters lacking some form of state-issued photo identification[18]. This information is far more specific than the information provided to the Supreme Court in Crawford. Justice Stevens cited a District Judge who rejected a plaintiffs’ expert’s report that the Indiana photo ID law would disenfranchise nearly a million registered voters, saying that the report as “utterly incredible and unreliable” due to a failure in testing the report’s accuracy[19]. The Pennsylvania Department of State study surely meets an accurate standard of who may be affected by PA’s photo ID requirement for voting.

My View

In general, I am opposed to photo ID laws because of the public policy concerns that arise from this type of legislation, especially the burdens placed on certain classes of voters. I certainly recognize the government's role in providing fair and honest elections. Certainly no reasonable person would want our leaders chosen in a cloud of impropriety. That being said, there needs to be a balance between governmental regulation of elections and the transparency and accessibility of voting. We should not make it extremely difficult for individuals to participate in our political process.

In recent days, we have seen the problem that Pennsylvania’s photo identification requirement will potentially cause. The Commonwealth currently has over roughly 750,000 registered voters without some form of state-issue photo identification. The public policy concerns are staggering for many reasons, but the potential disenfranchisement of 9.2% of Pennsylvania voters should be our biggest fear of all. 

I maintain that the major problem behind photo ID laws is how the law affects the class of voters that will have to overcome serious hardship to obtain a photo, particularly in Pennsylvania. Unlike most states with photo ID requirements, Pennsylvania requires multiple forms of documentation that may not be available to many voters. As stated above, the birth certificate requirement is particularly problematic because voters may be unable to gain one for several reasons, such as social and monetary costs or a state’s inability to keep records of a person’s birth.

This new law impacts registered voters that have difficulty in getting to photo ID centers, particularly the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. Prior to the law being enacted, it was quite easy for these groups of people to participate in elections. As in many states, Pennsylvania polling places are positioned in neighborhoods, which made it easy for people to vote. Prior to the law, all a registered voter would have to do is provide a utility bill or bank statement to be able to vote, which would be more current than other forms of identification. The elderly, poor, and disabled could walk short distances or ride public transportation to vote. However, prior to voting, any member of these groups who never had a photo ID before or have not had the need for photo identification must now acquire identification. In many counties in Pennsylvania, public transportation does not reach photo license centers. By providing obstacles that are difficult to overcome for some classes of people, the government discourages them from participating in the political process.

The Pennsylvania photo ID bill has been wrapped in controversy due to the partisan political battles surrounding the law’s passage. The bill passed with a straight partisan vote, as all Democrats and three Republicans voted against it in both houses of the General Assembly. After its execution into law by Governor Corbett, Democrats immediately cried foul and pressed on with hopes of challenging the law. The partisan bickering between the two parties recently escalated with comments made by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who stated at this year's Republican State Committee that the voter ID law would propel Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania in the 2012 Presidential Election. 

In a response to the outcry over his comments, a spokesperson for Turzai noted that, "Rep. Turzai was speaking at a partisan, political event. He was simply referencing, for the first time in a long while, the Republican Presidential candidate will be on a more even keel thanks to Voter ID…Anyone looking further into it has their own agenda[20]."

The implication made by Turzai’s camp is that voter fraud has been a cause to Democrats winning Pennsylvania in the past several Presidential electoral cycles. Yet the Commonwealth has never produced any evidence of voter fraud during deliberations of and the passing of House Bill 934. Prior to his election as Governor, Tom Corbett served as Attorney General. During his time as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, his office did not prosecute one case of voter fraud. It is simply a problem that has never existed in Pennsylvania and the photo ID requirement does much more harm than good because it makes it much tougher to participate in the democratic process for many registered voters in the Commonwealth. Turzai's comments symbolize a dangerous rationale for the existence of the law in that its passage was politically motivated, intending to disenfranchise the traditionally Democratic votes of the poor and minorities who may lack the ability to gain a photo identification. 

Another argument made for photo ID laws has been the controversy revolving around ACORN – The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Months prior to the 2008 general election, different media organizations accused ACORN of creating fake names to add to voter registration rolls across the country. While ACORN volunteers have been caught adding fake name applications, their actions do not constitute voter fraud, but voter registration fraud. The registering of voters contains a completely separate protocol from the process of voting because registering to vote does not require any identification. Another reason why voter registration fraud occurs more frequently than voter fraud is the decentralization of the voter registration process as any business or organization can start up voter registration drives.

In many states including Pennsylvania, registering to vote can be done through mail. Photo identification presented at polling places would do nothing to curb voter registration fraud. A person who registers a fake name does not commit voter fraud until their vote has been actually cast. If the proponents of voter ID bills are so adamant about curbing voter registration fraud, then perhaps they should start enacting legislation that prevents individuals from registering fake names.

Prior to the photo ID requirement, for a person to commit voter fraud and vote multiple times, that person would have to go to different polling places, provide different evidence of residency at each polling place, and sign identically to the signature listed in the polling place’s signature book. If it seems highly unlikely, it is because it is unlikely. Nevertheless, in 2002, the Department of Justice led by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made prosecuting voter fraud a priority[21]. After five years, the Department of Justice only convicted 86 people - out of the nearly 300 million votes cast during that period - of committing some form of federal election fraud[22]. It should also be noted that the majority of the 86 convictions dealt with immigrants and eligibility issues with felons – issues that photo identification would not fix[23].  In discussing the Department of Justice’s findings on voter fraud, Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the Loyola Law School, stated: “If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a statewide election, that would be significant. But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent[24].”

Photo ID proponents like to state that photo IDs must be used in other activities such as driving, cashing checks, and drinking alcohol. The problem with this analogy is that these activities are not related to fundamental rights. Activities like driving are privileges and laws can be instituted in order to regulate privileges. Voting is not a privilege. It is the right that all rights are derived from - the basic connection between an individual and their government. It is an American citizen’s most fundamental right as defined by both the United States Supreme Court and Pennsylvania Supreme Court and thus, implying that voting is on the same level as privileges like driving is fallacious at best.

Finally, we cannot ignore the economic cost of voter ID laws across the country. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC), estimates of the first-year costs for a voter identification program in Pennsylvania are approximately 11 million dollars[25]. According to a study by the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, the State of Indiana spent 12.2 million dollars over the first four years of Indiana’s photo ID law[26]. As of January 2011, Indiana had 4,332,865 registered voters[27]. Pennsylvania has roughly 8.2 million registered voters[28]. This cost includes providing free photo ID cards, lost revenue to PennDOT, paid media campaigns educating registered voters on the new law, sending out mailers to every registered voter informing them of the new law, buying new equipment for photo ID centers, and hiring additional polling staff. If Indiana spent 12.2 million dollars over four years, how much will Pennsylvania spend?

In conclusion, voter ID bills are controversial on legal grounds because they burden the individual’s right to vote. While the United States Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID bill, the Court also recognized the potential pitfalls in the creation and operation of voter ID bills. Voter ID bills are also controversial due to the public policy consequences that follow them. Photo ID requirements cause more harm than good by making it more difficult for the poor, disabled, and elderly to vote. These bills are also based on false premises that voter fraud is a rampant problem. Voter ID bills are also costly, especially to a large state like Pennsylvania, and they are the creation of the worst kind of partisan politicking: the disenfranchisement of voters that traditionally vote Democratic.

To be against this law is not to be in support of voter fraud. In fact, it is just the opposite. Elections are not legitimate unless anyone who wants to vote and is legally allowed to vote can vote. Governments should not make it difficult for citizens to participate in the franchise.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this blog post should be construed as legal advice. This post is solely for informative and advertisement purposes only. If you need to speak to an attorney about any legal issue, please contact The Law Office of Michael T. Muha at michaeltmuha@gmail.com. 

[3] Lutz v. City of York, PA, 899 F.2d 255 (3rd. Cir. 1990), quoting, Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319,325 (1937).
[4] Id., quoting, Moore v. City of Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494,503(1977).
[5] Winston v. Moore, 244 Pa. 447, 457, 91 A. 520,523 (Pa. 1914).
[6] http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/PetitionApplewhite.pdf, citing, Winston v. Moore, 244 Pa. 447 (Pa. 1914)
[8] Id.
[9] McCafferty v. Guyer, 59 Pa. 109, 111 (Pa. 1868).
[10] Winston v. Moore, 244 Pa. 447, 457, 91 A. 520,523 (Pa. 1914).
[11] Mixon v. Commonwealth, 759 A.2d 442 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2000), quoting, Patterson v. Barlow, 60 Pa. 54,75 (Pa. 1869).
[13] Nothing in either the definition of the “Proof of Identification” section in 25 P.S. §2602 (z.5) or PA Supreme Court case law defines voters without identification as disqualified electors.
[14] Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 198 (2008).
[15] Id. at 201.
[16]  Id. at 198-200. In the majority opinion, Justice Stevens wrote, “The fact that most voters already possess a valid driver’s license, or some other form of acceptable identification, would not save the statute under our reasoning in Harper, if the State required voters to pay a tax or a fee to obtain a new photo identification.” He continued later, stating, “If we assume, as the evidence suggests, that some members of these classes were registered voters when SEA 483 was enacted, the new identification requirement may have imposed a special burden on their right to vote. The severity of that burden is, of course, mitigated by the fact that, if eligible voters without photo identification may cast provisional ballots that will ultimately be counted. To do so, however, they must travel to the circuit court’s office within 10 days to execute the required affidavit. It is unlikely that such a requirement would pose a constitutional problem unless it is wholly unjustified. And even assuming the burden may not be justified as to a few voters, that conclusion is by no means sufficient to establish petitioners’ right to the relief they seek in this litigation.”
[17] Id. at 199.
[19] Supra at 187.
[24] Id.
[25] Voter Mandates Costly to Taxpayers. Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. May 10, 2011. http://pennbpc.org/voter-mandates-costly-taxpayer#footnote-2
[26] A Report on Photo ID for Voting Purposes. Iowa State Association of County Auditors.  http://www.iowaauditors.org/index_files/ISACAVoterIDReport020211final.pdf
[27] Indiana Statistics and Maps.  http://www.in.gov/sos/elections/2393.htm
[28] http://articles.philly.com/2012-07-05/news/32537732_1_voter-id-new-voter-id-cards

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

PA's New Voter ID Bill: What is it and What do I need to do?

In March 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a voter identification bill that may possibly affect your ability to vote. However, with proper information and preparation, you can avoid the pitfalls that may prevent you from having your vote count this November.

At a later date, we will take a look at the consequences of the bill and come to a conclusion as to whether the legislation was a good idea. Today, however, we will provide information that can assist you in making sure your voice is heard on Election Day 2012.

The main provision of the voter identification bill is the requirement for photo identification. Like 15 other states before Pennsylvania, the General Assembly's major rationale for the photo identification requirement was their belief in a rise in voter fraud. Next time we will take a look at whether that rationale was justified and whether the law can withstand legal challenges.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, all voters must bring photo identification that includes an expiration date that is current. In other words, your non-renewed six-year-old driver's license is not going to be acceptable. Unfortunately for older voters, the simple showing of a utility bill with your name and address will not be proper identification. This is even if a voter has voted at the same location for multiple electoral cycles. Acceptable identification includes:

  • Photo IDs issued by the U.S. Federal Government or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: 
    • Pennsylvania driver’s license or non-driver’s license photo ID (IDs are valid for voting purposes 12 months past expiration date)
    • Valid U.S. passport
    • U.S. military ID - active duty and retired military (a military or veteran’s ID must designate an expiration date or designate that the expiration date is indefinite). Military dependents’ ID must contain an expiration date
  • Employee photo ID issued by Federal, PA, County or Municipal government
  • Photo ID cards from an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning
  • Photo ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility, including long-term care facilities, assisted living residences or personal care homes

College students should also be aware that their student IDs are NOT acceptable unless they have an expiration date on the face of the card. Recent articles in different newspapers across the Commonwealth have reported that PA colleges and universities are starting to add expiration dates to their student IDs. If you are unsure whether your institution of higher learning is adding these dates, make sure you rely on another form of acceptable photo identification. 

If you are unable to procure photo identification by Election Day, you can still vote, but you have to vote provisionally. This results in your ballot being counted separately from all other ballots. A provisional ballot will be counted so long as the voter returns a copy of an accepted ID and an affirmation letter to your County Board of Elections within six calendar days. This process can be done through fax, e-mail, or snail mail. 

After the six day time frame is up, any voter with a provisional ballot may call the PA Department of State at 1-877-VOTES-PA to find out if their ballot was counted. 

If you have any further questions regarding the PA voter identification bill, please contact me at michaeltmuha@gmail.com and I will be happy to answer any preliminary questions free of charge. 

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informative and advertisement purposes only. This post contains no legal advice. If you need to speak to an attorney about any legal matter you may have please e-mail The Law Office of Michael T. Muha at michaeltmuha@gmail.com. 

A Little Bit About Myself...

Hello and welcome to the blog of The Law Office of Michael T. Muha. The main purpose of this blog is to inform people about their rights regarding three major areas of law: voting rights law, campaign finance law, and education discrimination law.

Before the posts start coming, I want to introduce myself, talk about why I became a lawyer, and why I am passionate about the types of law I will be discussing on this blog.

Since I was a child, my hero has always been Abraham Lincoln. The thing that drew me to the man was not necessarily what he did, despite it being the work that saved the Union, but for who he was. Mr. Lincoln came from nothing in a Kentucky log cabin, learned how to read on his own, and worked hard to become a Postmaster, a lawyer, a United States Congressman, and eventually President of the United States. Throughout my younger years, I took his life as the prime example of how I wanted to live my own.

When I approached my high school years, I worked hard at being a good student. I focused on my classes and extracurricular activities, particularly Academic Games. My freshman year I placed in the national top ten in a game based on the United States Presidents. My sophomore year I won the National Championship in a world history game called World Events in Kissimmee, Florida. After that, my life changed. My friends at the time started using drugs and wanted me to participate with them. I declined. As a result, I was treated differently. First started the joking around. It quickly escalated to death threats and rumors about who I was, what I did, and whether or not I would be around the next day at school. I questioned everything and everyone around me. I became cynical about life. I kept quiet. My grades suffered, my life was in chaos. My junior year was the worst year of my life and it lead me down a path where the end put me and a butcher knife in a dark room, contemplating suicide.

I didn't do it because I knew I'd hurt the people who loved me. Instead, I went back to Mr. Lincoln. Reading more about the man, I realized that he was once in the same position as me. After losing the love of his life at a young age, Abraham threatened suicide. His woes continued with the tragic deaths of his young children and the young men he sent off to war against the South. In the end, despite his depression, he picked himself up and accomplished great things. I knew I had to do the same.

After high school, I attended Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, where I received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Minor in Philosophy. After Slippery Rock, I moved to Washington, DC and attended The American University, where I graduated with a Master of Arts in Political Science - American Politics. During my time there, I worked on Capitol Hill as an intern for my then-Member of Congress Philip S. English and I was a civics instructor teaching middle and high-school children about American history and government. After my time at Washington, I moved back home and attended the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. I graduated in December 2011 and I passed the bar in April 2012. 

In May 2011, I went back to my alma mater of Hickory High School in Hermitage, Pennsylvania and spoke to the students there about school bullying, drug abuse, and suicide prevention. While I was always dedicated to helping students with their problems since my depression, I learned how much my words could help young people. Now, I work tirelessly as an advocate for young people. In recent times, we've seen more and more young people committing suicide because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. As a result, more laws are being enacted to stop school bullying and provide proper guidance to students who need help. It is my hope that this blog will provide proper insight in some of these laws.

Before law, my main love was electoral politics. After obtaining my Masters degree, I spent a lot of time in law school, focusing on election law issues. These issues range from gerrymandering to campaign finance laws pre- and post-Citizens United. In recent years, we've also seen state legislatures and governors support voter ID and other voting rights laws. This blog will also address some of the legal ramifications of those laws and what you, as a potential voter, should know when approaching the ballot box. 

In conclusion, my personal experiences and beliefs have shaped me to be not only a better person, but I hope, a better lawyer. I came back to Western Pennsylvania not only because it has been my home for over two decades, but also because I love this place. It's not like any other location in America. The people are strong willed and hardworking. I came back because I want to make a difference in people's lives here. 

I hope you enjoyed my story and I hope you continue to check out my blog. 

If you wish to speak to me about any legal issue you may being dealing with, please contact me at michaeltmuha@gmail.com. 

A Little Bit About this Blog and Our New Office...

Thank you for visiting the blog of The Law Office of Michael T. Muha. This blog was created by Attorney Michael T. Muha in hopes to inform people of the legal issues and consequences in regards to three burgeoning areas of law: voting rights and campaign finance law as well as education discrimination law.

Posts of this blog will be uploaded periodically and they are to be used for informative purposes only. All posts on this blog are not legal advice and should not be considered as such. If you are looking for a lawyer on any of these topics or any other legal matter, please contact me at michaeltmuha@gmail.com.

The Law Office of Michael T. Muha is currently building a website, so our main portal on the Internet will temporarily be this blog.

The Law Office of Michael T. Muha accepts clients from the following counties of Pennsylvania: Mercer, Lawrence, Crawford, Erie, Butler, Beaver, Venango, and Allegheny Counties. The Office also handles cases and legal matters relating to criminal defense, family and domestic relations law, tax law, employment discrimination, and estate planning. 

Michael T. Muha is an attorney authorized to the practice of law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Michael is located in the great City of Hermitage, which is the largest municipality in Mercer County. Hermitage is in the southwestern part of the county, housed in the Shenango Valley. We are roughly one hour away from both Erie and Pittsburgh and we are roughly 15 minutes away from Youngstown, Ohio.