Pennsylvania Judge Bars Voter-ID law for 2012 Election

By: *Christopher King

Blog Category: The Economics of Discrimination

On October 2, 2012, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson granted a preliminary injunction in Applewhite v. Commonwealth,[1] thus, putting on hold a law passed by the Pennsylvania legislature earlier this year, requiring Pennsylvania voters to produce photo identification at the polls in order to vote.  Originally, Judge Simpson had denied the plaintiffs’ application for a preliminary injunction.[2]  The plaintiffs, however, appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who voted to vacate the judge’s order and remanded the case for further review.[3] In its decision, the Court asked the judge to assess the availability of state-issued photo ID, and wrote that the law should be temporary blocked if the judge found that there were voters who would be disenfranchised because of the difficulty in obtaining a photo ID prior to the November general election.[4]


In his October 2nd ruling, Judge Simpson accepted the petitioners’ argument and said that it was logistically impossible to make IDs available to everyone who needed one before the November general election.[5]  Judge Simpson ruled that, while election officials can still request to see a voter’s ID on Election Day, voters are no longer required to show ID in order to cast a regular ballot.[6]  The law as adopted had only allowed for a voter without the required ID to cast a provisional ballot, and for that ballot to be counted only if the voter returned with the proper photo documentation within six days of the election.[7]


The idea of producing identification in order to vote is something that strikes most people as a reasonable requirement.  After all, we need a photo ID to get on an airplane, to enter a number of governmental buildings, or even to buy Sudafed at the drug store.  Supporters of voter-ID laws maintain that the intent of these measures is to ensure that each registered voter is who he says he is and to prevent fraud by persons trying to cast a ballot in someone else’s name.[8]  Again, it seems reasonable enough, so why has there been so much vocal opposition to voter-ID laws?


For starters, a look at the history of voter-ID laws shows that, before 2006, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID in order to vote.[9]  Prior to the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American President, only two states had implemented photo identification requirements for voters.[10]  In 2011 alone, thirty-four states introduced legislation that would require its citizens to show photo identification in order to vote.[11]  Aside from Rhode Island, all voter-ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-controlled legislatures.[12]

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, 11% of American citizens, and an even greater percentage of low-income and minority citizens, do not possess a government-issued photo ID.[13]  Based on the Brennan Center’s 2006 survey, Citizens Without Proof, 25% of voting-age African Americans have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to just 8% of voting-age white citizens.[14]  The survey also states that 16% of voting-age Hispanic citizens have no current government-issued photo ID.[15]  Citizens with comparatively low incomes are also less likely to possess photo identification.[16]  The survey indicates that at least 15% of voting-age Americans earning less than $35,000 per year do not have a valid government-issued photo ID.[17]


A recent Pennsylvania study comparing people listed in the state’s ID database with its voter rolls found that more than one in seven Pennsylvania voters did not appear to have valid state-issued IDs.[18]  In the city of Philadelphia, nearly one out of every three voters were found to be without the proper photo identification.[19]  While there has been some discrepancy concerning the total number of voters who lack a suitable photo ID, Azavea, a geospatial software firm, used the information relevant to Philadelphia to show a disturbing tendency about where those who do not have an ID are most likely to live.[20]  The firm found that voters who live in the city’s most heavily African American-populated areas are 85% more likely to lack a valid ID than a voter who lives in a predominantly white area.  In addition, voters who live in heavily Hispanic areas were 108% more likely to lack the right ID than those in white neighborhoods.[21]

Finally, opponents of these laws argue that photo ID requirements are similar to a poll tax because, even though the state-issued photo IDs are offered for free, citizens must produce documents that cost money, like passports and birth certificates, in order to obtain the IDs.[22]


The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.

*Christopher King is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race on the Harrisburg campus. To learn more about Christopher King, click the link to visit his page: Christopher King

[1] Applewhite v. Commonwealth, No. 330 M.D. (Pa. Commw. Ct. Oct. 2, 2012), NR/rdonlyres/CFBF4323-B964-4846-8179-88D689375C10/0/CMWSuppDetAppPrelInjOrder _100212.pdf.

[2] Suevon Lee, Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws, ProPublica (Oct. 10, 2012, 1:54 PM),

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Sophia Pearson, Pennsylvania Judge Bars Voter-ID Law for 2012 Election, Bloomberg (Oct. 3, 2012, 12:01 AM),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Lee, supra note 2.

[9] Wendy R. Weiser & Lawrence Norden, Brennan Ctr for Justice, Voting Law Changes in 2012 4 (2011), available at

[10] Id. at 2.

[11] Id.

[12] Lee, supra note 2.

[13] Weiser & Norden, supra note 9.

[14] Brennan Ctr for Justice, Citizens Without Proof: A Survery of Americans’ Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification 3 (2006), available at

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Dan Froomkin, Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Hits Philadelphia Blacks, Latinos Harder, HuffingtonPost (Aug. 7, 2012),

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Lee, supra note 2.

The Olympics & Gabby’s Hair

By: *Staci Pesin

Blog Category: Race & Economics in the Media

I would consider myself quite the expert in pop culture.  My weekly subscriptions to Us Weekly and People magazine would not normally lend to a professional blog topic, but in this case I had the perfect source.  US weekly featured an article in the “Beauty” Section that focused on Gabby Douglas, two time Olympic gold medalist.   However, this article was not published to praise the sixteen year old on her accomplishments as a world champion.


During the 2012 Summer Olympics, Douglas was a hot topic in the media for her athletic accomplishments and surprisingly for her personal appearance.  The controversy specifically centered on the African American community criticizing Douglas for her hairstyle during the Olympics.  Douglas was seen throughout the Olympics wearing her hair in a ponytail with barrettes and gel. Her hair was chemically-straightened.  Douglas, according to critics, did not properly represent her culture with this hairstyle.


Gabby Douglas is a gymnast, an Olympic champion, a world class athlete, and most importantly, a role model to young girls. She was competing in the Olympics, not a beauty pageant.  The fact that Douglas needs to worry about responding, and in some essence defending herself, for wearing her hair a certain way while competing is “disrespectful and ignorant,” according to Douglas.  I agree with her.  Anything that people say to make headlines seems to be the trend.


Actress Gabrielle Union and Olympic athlete Serena Williams have defended Douglas on Twitter.  Hey, if people are “tweeting” you have to be pretty popular.  For Douglas, the negative publicity seems to have subsided, however, the good thing is that she is still making headlines for her athletic accomplishments.


The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


*Staci Pesin is currently the Senior Managing Editor on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race. To learn more about Staci Pesin, click the link to view her page: Staci Pesin

To read more about this topic visit the following website:


Financial Aid and Undocumented Immigrants

By: *Katelyn McKenzie

Blog Category: Immigration

Courts in New Jersey and Florida recently decided that colleges and universities can no longer deny financial aid to students based on the immigration status of their parents.  These rulings came after many universities, feeling pressure to reduce spending, instituted regulations denying need-based financial aid and lower in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants, even though the children are United States citizens.

A Federal District court judge in Miami found regulations denying financial aid to students who could not prove the legal immigration status of their parents unconstitutional because they “create a second-tier status of U.S. citizenship,” and deny benefits that are widely available to other Americans.

In New Jersey, a state appeals court found its law denying aid to children of illegal immigrants “decidedly un-American” because it denies American citizens rights and privileges based on the identity of their parents.  These policies often go unnoticed because many American students are reluctant to bring challenges because of the possible deportation consequences for their parents, but they affect thousands of college-bound American students every year.


*Katelyn McKenzie is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race. To learn about Katelyn McKenzie, click the link to visit her page: Katelyn McKenzie

To learn more about this topic: See Julia Preston, Court Rulings Help Illegal Immigrants’ College-Bound Children. N.Y. Times, September 5, 2012, at A20, available at

Bridging the Digital Divide

Blog Category: Race and Economics in the Media

By: *Alison Palmer

With a continuous increase of everyday events and services taking place in cyberspace, the government, most recently the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), has been scrambling to determine the best way to bridge the digital divide.  The digital divide refers to the 40% of Americans lacking access to broadband internet, a divide leaving many low-income, black and Latino households on the side, lacking access due to the high cost of internet service.

The government has recognized that with jobs, classes and even many government services now taking place primarily on the internet, there is a need for all Americans to have access to this technology.  Despite this observation, past attempts to increase the availability and free or cheaper access to the internet have largely failed.  The FCC’s Chair, Julius Genachowski, stated earlier this year that it plans to apply its Lifeline program to broadband internet.  Lifeline is an FCC-run program seeking to ensure that phone-access is available to all Americans as it is an essential communication device and this same idea would be applied to providing internet access to those who cannot afford it.

There are anticipated problems with implementation of a Lifeline program to bridge the digital divide, though, including the FCC’s difficulty in regulating the internet as it is not deemed an “essential” communication device at this point, in 2012, despite its ubiquitous image.  Furthermore, concerns exist over whether the program can even reach enough people to bridge the divide, as only ten million participants are included in the current Lifeline phone program and approximately one hundred million Americans lack internet access.

Though smart phones have helped low-income individuals bridge the gap, a need continues for home-based internet access which provides a more participatory experience in society and democracy.   The FCC seems to be on the right track, but will it be enough?


The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


*Alison Palmer is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race. To learn more about Alison Palmer, click here to view her page: Alison Palmer

To read more about the socioeconomic digital divide, read:

The FCC is Trying to Close the Digital Divide- Sort Of, by Jamilah King in Colorlines