Earlier this week the Supreme Court ruled, 7–2, that states cannot require would-be voters to prove they are U.S. citizens before using a federal registration system designed to make signing up easier. The action threw out Arizona’s voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship.
The justices upheld a decision made by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that Arizona’s Proposition 200, passed in 2004, does not trump federal law that precludes the state from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself. All the applicant has to do is sign the form indicating that they are a U.S. citizen.
Closer to home, it will be interesting to see how that decision might affect the upcoming challenges to Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law. In short, the Keystone State’s missive requires voters to produce approved identification when casting their ballots – quite a difference from Arizona requiring proof of citizenship when registering.
The Pennsylvania law was enacted more than a year ago and immediately challenged. It was eventually put on hold because Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson was not convinced that enough voters would have been able to easily obtain the required IDs. The temporary ruling carried over and was in place for the 2013 primary election. Election officials could ask for identification but voters were not required to produce it in order cast their vote.
Last November’s general election fireworks in Philadelphia raised a concern that folks outside the city should ponder.
According to an audit report released last week by Philadelphia’s City Controller Alan Butkovitz, 27,000 provisional ballots were cast in the 2012 election in the City of Brotherly Love – more than double the number cast in 2008.
A provisional ballot is a paper ballot used to record a vote when there is some question regarding a voter’s eligibility. They are held separately so that they can be discounted if it is later determined that the voter wasn’t eligible to vote in that location or not at all.
Almost 10,000 of those votes were legit and should have been cast on the regular voting machines – a sign that there is a problem with the city’s voting process – and Philadelphia’s mayor has appointed a “fact-finding” team to look into the issue.
Of the remaining 17,000 voters, 9,000 went to the wrong polling place. But the nearly 8,000 remaining were ineligible voters. That’s a lot of people trying to cast a ballot who shouldn’t be.
The non-eligible voters were caught with a system that didn’t require them to show ID. Those reasons could range from not being registered to vote to not being who you say you are. How many more would have been caught if every voter was required to produce identification? How does the rest of the state match up to the city’s numbers?
The legal challenge to the Voter ID Law is scheduled to begin in July and last a week or so. It’s been over a year and since that time many Pennsylvania counties have offered photo ID options for citizens. Advocacy groups have stepped up to help thousands obtain their photo ID throughout the Commonwealth. Judge Simpson’s question should be answered.
Perhaps, by the end of July, we’ll know what we need, or do not need, when casting our ballots in November.
But, in our litigious society and with the opportunity for appeals, don’t hold your breath waiting for closure.