Written by Anthony Moujaes
United Church of Christ leaders welcomed a decision by a judge in Pennsylvania to block a law that would have put significant voter ID requirements in effect on Election Day.
Without the decision by the state judge, the law may have impacted the ability of youths, the elderly, people with disabilities, and even veterans from participating in the election, says Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC's Washington, D.C. office.
"It's unconscionable that we would want to deny (these groups) the right to vote," Sorensen said.
The move temporarily restricts the state from enforcing a controversial law that would require all voters to present a valid photo ID at the polls.
"This decision is so important because it counters the trend that we've seen in the last several years toward more restrictive voter laws," Sorensen said. "If voting is the heart of our democracy, we should be working for a more accessible and fair electoral process, and not a more restrictive one."
Marja Coons Torn, Penn-Central Conference Minister, said there were several people concerned with the law, but she is "very glad to hear that a judge has halted the implementation of this law for the time being."
The decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson could still be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Simpson ordered the state not to enforce the photo ID requirements during the November election, but said they will take effect next year.
Based on the "strict photo ID" requirements for Pennsylvania voters, a valid photo ID is required before a ballot is cast. Without a photo ID, voters are given a provisional ballot that is kept separate. Voters have a short time frame – usually a few days – to return to the election office to present a valid ID, or the provisional ballot is never counted.
Proponents of the law claim that these restrictive measures are necessary to address increased levels of voter fraud, but Sorensen and Coons-Torn said the evidence indicates that voter fraud is low.
"There may have been, in the whole state, possibly eight cases of voter fraud (in the last Presidential election)," Coons-Torn said. "And to disenfranchise millions for eight cases is a ridiculous action. Our protections are adequate now."
To help voters feel empowered at the polls this November, the UCC has partnered with a nonpartisan coalition to assist voters by providing them with information and tracking any instances of voter disenfranchisement. As part of the UCC's Our Faith, Our Vote campaign, Justice and Witness Ministries posted a webinar on voter suppression issues to inform people of voter ID laws.
The UCC D.C. office started the Our Faith, Our Vote campaign in 2004, and it has continued each through each of the Presidential and midterm elections as a resource to help the progressive faith community engage in the voting process.