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Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Struck Down – The Puerto Rican Angle

In a ruling last Friday, Judge Bernard McGinley of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania struck down the state’s controversial voter ID law. The law limited photo ID options for voters to drivers licenses or passports — alternatives like student IDs, school district worker IDs, military retiree IDs, and government benefit cards were not accepted.  According to a story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Governor Tom Corbett (R) has not ruled out bringing an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania law is one of several state voter-ID laws that have been enacted in recent years.  As the Pennsylvania case began to receive increased attention, there was growing speculation as to whether Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania would be disproportionately impacted due to a 2010 Puerto Rican  law invalidating all birth certificates issued before  July 1, 2010 and requiring everyone of voting age who was born in Puerto Rico and did not already have a passport or driver’s license to take the extra step of obtaining a new birth certificate before applying for a voter ID.  The Puerto Rico Report covered the first phases of this litigation in the months leading up to Election Day 2012.

In his ruling, Judge McGinley stated that the law might make it more difficult for poor, minority, and elderly voters to exercise their right to vote. Lacking adequate evidence of existing voter fraud or the need for a new voter ID law, the court decided that the law placed an undue burden on voters and had the potential to disenfranchise voters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is far from Puerto Rico, which also has the word “Commonwealth” in its title. At first glance, the use of this word seems to be all that the two entities have in common. However, Pennsylvania has 381,646 Puerto Rican residents, more than half of the state’s Hispanic population, and Pennsylvania’s Puerto Rican population is growing.

The people of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States but lack proportional representation in Congress and are ineligible to vote in presidential elections. When they move to the mainland — as an increasing number of Puerto Ricans now choose to do — they become eligible to vote in all elections, including presidential contests, and gain congressional representation.

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