Voter ID on Trial: Part II

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 13 2012 11:13 AM

Voter ID on Trial: Part II

Only seven weeks before the election, only a few weeks before absentee balloting can start, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is taking up the complaint over the state's new voter ID law. I know what you're asking: "Didn't they already try this, and affirm the law?" Not quite! Pennsylvania juliennes its state legal system into three courts, and it was the Commonwealth Court that ruled for the law, denying an injunction to the ACLU et al. The state Supreme Court is usually a seven-member body, but thanks to a scandal trapping one of its Republican-appointed members, it's split 3-3 between (in a manner of speaking) the two parties.

Functionally, that doesn't help the petitioners. Whether they're appealing to four judges or three, they need one conservative to flip and rule against the ID law. But a national media obsession with the law has faded a bit in the last month. The reason? Pure horse race. The state, which passed the law hastily, has continued to revise standards and grant IDs to people who couldn't have gotten them under the original language. (Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year old black woman who made A1 of the New York Times for her ID woes, was one of the recent beneficiaries.) And the Romney campaign has held off on engaging in the state, concentrating candidate visits and money on places that flipped from Bush to Obama -- Ohio, Florida, Virginia. The triage has gotten so obvious that Pennsylvania Republicans just finished a conference call, held to tell reporters that, no, seriously, their state still might go red.

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But if the law stays, and Pennsylvania stays blue, doesn't it benefit the national campaign for voter ID? No other state has drawn this much of panic and attention from liberals after passing new poll restrictions. If Democrats can win it in these conditions, even if the Obama margin falls from 10 points to low single digits, it becomes "proof 'that the stricter laws don't keep the Democratic base from voting.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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