Commentary: Despite Voting Rights Victory in PA, the Fight Continues

There are several states with new voter ID laws and others where such laws are being considered seriously.

Posted: 01/21/2014 01:47 PM EST

The decision by the judge was strongly worded.

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election,” Judge Bernard L. McGinley of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania stated in a decision regarding the state’s voter identification law last week. “The voter ID law does not further this goal.”

With that, the judge struck down Pennsylvania’s year-old and highly controversial law requiring people to produce a state-approved photo ID when they go to cast their ballots. It was the handiwork of a Republican-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor in an effort to reduce the turnout of voters who traditionally lean Democratic.

McGinley also dismissed as unreasonable the very rationale for the law, the contention that voter fraud is a problem that requires immediate action. The judge said what civil rights organizations and other advocacy groups have long contended: That there is little to no evidence of fraud in the polls. In fact, the state of Pennsylvania was unable to cite a single incident of voter fraud.

The partisan political strategy among Pennsylvania Republicans is hardly a mystery. This is the state, after all, where the state’s House Majority leader Mike Turzai hailed the prospect of a voter ID law in 2012, saying it “is going to allow Mitt Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

The recent decision by the Pennsylvania judge has been hailed by civil rights groups and others. But this is a victory in but one battle in a large and overarching war over voting rights. The move is well underway to make voting more difficult for young, elderly and African-American and Latino prospective voters.

There are strict voter ID laws that have been enacted in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina, with others coming down the legislative pipeline in Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee. It is virtually at an epidemic stage and it is no time for advocates to be comfortable in fighting against these restrictive measures.

The fight against these laws — 50 years after civil rights icons saw the passage of voting rights protections — remains Herculean and is not likely to end anytime soon, despite the satisfaction that many progressive Americans have felt about the Pennsylvania decision. The country may be in store for a possible Supreme Court deliberation on this topic.

And so, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups and Americans of reasonable minds must continue to do all in their power to ensure that these restrictive, partisan measures continue to get swatted down by the courts or to prevent them from being enacted in the first place. This is an issue that clearly is not going away anytime soon.

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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