PA State Judge Blocks Voter-ID Legislation
October 2, 2012By KRIS MAHER
A Pennsylvania state judge on Tuesday blocked the state's voter-identification law from taking effect in time for the November election.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said he thought the measure, which would have required voters to show a photo ID at the polls, could have kept some people from voting, as the law's opponents had argued.
"I'm still not convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement," Judge Simpson wrote. While delaying implementation of the law, the judge said he didn't find a problem with requiring photo IDs generally. He also directed the state to continue its $5 million campaign to educate people that the photo IDs will be required in the future.
State officials indicated they wouldn't appeal the ruling. Voters will be asked to show identification on Nov. 6 but people without it will still be able to vote, said Carol Aichele, the Pennsylvania secretary of state.
The ruling was a victory for groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which had sued to block the law, and a blow to state Republicans, who had passed it in March over Democrats' opposition.
As the case moved through the state courts, the legal focus shifted from a broad argument over whether the law was constitutional to whether its implementation would prevent any registered voters from casting a ballot this fall.
Bring Your IDSee a state-by-state breakdown of voter-identification requirements.
David Gersch, a Washington lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the case, called the ruling "a big win in that you can still vote without ID in November." He said a future challenge to the law could focus on problems that elderly and disabled voters recently reported in obtaining IDs, but added, "It's premature to say what that trial will look like."
Pennsylvania's law was among the strictest of 31 voter-ID measures in place around the U.S. In other cases, states have mailed the necessary IDs to all voters or have said people can sign affidavits at the polls attesting to their identities if they forget to bring IDs.
Pennsylvania Republicans have said the law was intended to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats have said they believed it would have disproportionately affected poor urban voters and others more likely to vote for President Barack Obama and other Democrats.
Pennsylvania estimated earlier this year that 89,000 voters, or about 1%, might lack an acceptable ID. The state has issued roughly 11,000 voter IDs since the law was passed in March, and in September it eased some requirements for obtaining one.
Judge Simpson previously rejected claims that the law would prevent some people from voting, and he refused to block the law when it first came before him in August. Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered him to block the law unless he determined there would be no voter disenfranchisement and that new state voter IDs are easy to obtain.
In the most recent hearing, voters testified that they had trouble getting a new ID the state began offering in August. One voter said she made two 80-minute round trips to a driver's license center but couldn't get an ID because she lives with someone else and had no proof of residency.