For most Pennsylvanians, obtaining photo identification poses no problem.
Every driver’s license has such an image, for example.
But the right to vote does not extend to most citizens. It extends to everyone.
In a nutshell, that’s why a law requiring prospective voters in Pennsylvania to present photo identification before casting ballots was ruled unconstitutional last week.
Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley issued the ruling, stressing that laws regarding voting access are supposed to encourage turnout, not thwart it.
And in certain circumstances, Voter ID would create burdens. The right to vote is not intended to come with hoops to jump through.
Defenders of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law argue it’s necessary to help prevent voter fraud. However, as McGinley noted in his ruling, the Corbett administration — which pushed for the law — has never documented any fraud that this measure would have prevented.
Thus the law becomes an impediment to voting, even as it strives to solve a problem that does not exist.
And that’s why it was thrown out. Government has the power to create all sorts of restrictions on people if it so chooses. In many cases — as long as laws are imposed equitably and without discrimination — a variety of dubious rules can pass constitutional muster.
However, when these laws impact a fundamental right, such as voting, the “because we said so” argument isn’t good enough.
In these instances, government must show its rules are designed to right a real wrong and that any changes do not restrict legitimate rights. Such wasn’t the case with Voter ID, as those who challenged the measure showed that many Pennsylvanians who didn’t have a driver’s license would encounter burdensome restrictions in an effort to obtain acceptable identification.
The Corbett administration can still appeal this ruling; it also has asked McGinley to reconsider his decision.