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PA Voter ID Law Halted - For Now

Posted: Oct 02, 2012


Voters in Pennsylvania will not be required to produce a photo ID to be eligible to vote in November, but they can still be asked to produce one. The latest ruling by Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson on Tuesday does not address all the issues around a law that has generated controversy far beyond the state’s borders.

“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls and this could cause confusion,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for the law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy.”

Hair’s assessment stems from the fact that the judge, who had previously allowed the law’s implementation to move forward, did not rule on the myriad legal issues at stake under the state’s constitution. Simpson’s ruling centered instead on the inability of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to process the number of photo IDs needed to service the hundreds of thousands of voters likely affected by the new law. Only an estimated 12,000 or so IDs have been generated to date.

While Simpson noted improvement in the state’s processing system in his ruling, he also wrote, “I expected more photo IDs to be issued by this time. For this reason, I accept Petitioner’s argument that in the remaining five weeks before the election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed.”

However, Simpson walked a legal tightrope on whether the confusion voters could face when asked for a now unnecessary form of ID is a form of disenfranchisement. “I understand the Supreme Court’s language to identify the essential offending activity as voter disenfranchisement, not a request to produce a photo ID.” Therefore, he wrote, “The injunction is tailored to address that offending activity.”

Still, even as voting rights advocates continue to prepare to litigate other aspects of the Pennsylvania law, they were generally upbeat about Simpson’s ruling despite its limited scope. “Today’s decision is a clear victory for Pennsylvania voters and the cause of voting rights across the country,” said Wendy Weiser, Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “As the Commonwealth Court ruled, implementing a sweeping new voter ID law so close to an election would prevent eligible citizens from voting and having their say in our democracy.”


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