Voter ID law partially blocked
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 22:10
A judge blocked the commonwealth from discounting ballots cast in next month’s general election by voters who do not have the proper photo identification under the new voter ID law.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson wrote in a decision released Tuesday that the injunction will extend the law’s transition period, when voters had been asked to provide photo identification but were permitted to vote without it, through next month’s election.
Simpson wrote that he expected the state to have issued more identification cards by the end of September.
“For this reason, I accept Petitioners’ argument that in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed,” Simpson wrote.
Since an Aug. 27 hearing, between 9,300 and 9,500 PennDOT IDs have been issued and between 1,300 and 1,500 Department of State IDs have been issued. Also, the number of IDs issued between when the law was signed in March and September has seen a “slight increase” over the same period in 2011, an increase of about 1,000 to 2,000 IDs per month, Simpson wrote.
On Dec. 12, 2011, the state Senate amended the then-bill to include college IDs with expiration dates as a form of proper identification. Two weeks ago, Duquesne announced that its DU Card Center would reprint any student identification cards with an expiration date in order for them to be valid for November’s election.
Voters will still be asked to provide photo identification at the polls, but their votes will count regardless of whether they have an ID, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele.
“The streamlined process put in place by the Corbett Administration to help all voters get IDs would have allowed all voters to have acceptable ID by November,” Aichele wrote in a statement Tuesday. “However, the judge has concerns about this, and thus the same procedure will be in effect for this election as for the spring primary, in that voters will be requested to show ID, but ID will not be required to vote.”
Prior to being signed into law in March, the law’s 48 sponsors consisted of 47 Republicans and only one Democrat, Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Philadelphia).
State Democrats argued the law was designed to prevent groups who tend to vote liberal, such as the elderly, college students and minorities, from voting in the general election, while state Republicans claimed the law was meant to prevent voter fraud.
In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, wrote that although the law will not fully apply to the general election, he was pleased with Simpson’s decision to uphold the law’s constitutionality.
“While we believe we have made it possible for every registered voter who needs voter identification to obtain one, we’ll continue our efforts for the next election and all future elections, to make sure every registered voter has the proper identification in an effort to preserve the integrity of our voting process in Pennsylvania,” Corbett wrote.
But Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Pittsburgh) said that while Democrats await an appeal to the State Supreme Court, Simpson’s decision was “good news for voting rights” and “should inspire some overdue restraint by Republican lawmakers.”
“Although the Republicans control all branches of state government, they keep running afoul of one piece of paper – the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Frankel said in a statement Tuesday. “Today, again, we saw that the Republicans’ desire to manipulate government for their own political purposes has smashed headlong into constitutional protections of the people of Pennsylvania.”
After the Aug. 27 hearing, Simpson declined to stop the law, which opponents argued would disenfranchise voters by discounting the votes of individuals without voter identification. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court returned the case to Commonwealth Court last month with the intention to stop the law if it would discount legitimate votes.
But Aichele wrote that the law is designed “to preserve the integrity” of every vote and that she expects the law to be implemented in future elections.
She also encouraged voters to still obtain proper photo identification prior to the election.
“We will continue our education and outreach efforts, as directed by the judge in his order, to let Pennsylvanians know the voter ID law is still on track to be fully implemented for future elections, and we urge all registered voters to make sure they have acceptable ID,” Aichele wrote.