[Image courtesy of cbsnews]
Pennsylvania's long-running battle over voter ID is about to go another round as a state judge hearing a challenge to the law asked the litigants - are you sitting down? - for data that will help resolve the case. The Post-Gazette has more:
The judge hearing a challenge to Pennsylvania's voter ID law has ordered the state to turn over information from its databases of voters and drivers.
The number of Pennsylvania voters without acceptable identification was a central question last year in a hearing on whether the law would remain in effect for the November 2012 elections. That proceeding resulted in the extension -- now through the May primary elections -- of a phase-in period in which voters were asked, but not required, to show photo identification.
As attorneys prepare to argue whether the law should be allowed on a permanent basis, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Monday instructed the state to provide information -- including names, addresses and the last four digits of Social Security numbers -- from its rosters of voters and holders of Department of Transportation identification. He wrote that the information will assist in estimating the number of people who could be affected by the law.
As we saw again and again last year, the absence of data about the impact of voter ID requirements - specifically, the number of people who would be eligible to vote but for the lack of required ID - has been an important factor in the attempt to assess such requirements. The resulting factual vacuum has opened the door to now-familiar rhetorical warfare over whether ID requirements prevent fraud, create disenfranchisement or both. (Or neither.)
I'll admit to being somewhat surprised that the evidence the judge has requested hasn't already been presented, given the importance of the underlying question. Hopefully, the data will shed at least a little light on the impact of the proposed ID law.
There's no guarantee it will, however; as we've already seen in other courts, once a match is complete the arguments invariably begin about the significance of the results. Moreover, there's no guarantee that the state (which is responsible for maintaining the voting rolls) will be able to produce the requested data: a spokesperson for the state said it will "do its best to comply" with the requirement to deliver the data by next Tuesday.
While it is encouraging to see this potential development in the Pennsylvania case, it does seems strange to be cheering the use of evidence in a trial. Still, given how little evidence has been brought forth in ID litigation across the country, even this tiny (if obvious) step suggests that we may be inching closer to a greater use of data in the fierce fights over voter ID and other election policy issues across the nation.