News Column

Pa. Court Rules Voters Can Cast Regular Ballots Without ID

Oct. 2, 2012

Angela Couloumbis


A Commonwealth Court judge issued an injunction today blocking Pennsylvania's controversial new voter ID law from taking full effect before the presidential election, clearing the way for voters without government-issed identification to cast regular ballots on Nov. 6.

Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. in essence ruled that the general election would be -- like the primary -- a soft rollout of the law.

"I reject the underlying assertion that the offending activity is the request to produce photo ID; instead, I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement," he said.

That disenfranchisement, Simpson said, involved requiring those without identification to cast provisional ballots, which could be challenged at a later date.

During the primary, the law -- Act 18 -- permitted voters without identification to cast regular ballots.

"The injunction will have the effect of extending the express transition provisions of Act 18 through the general election," Simpson wrote.

The law's opponents hailed the ruling while the its sponsor, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, blasted it as an example of judicial activism.

"Justice Simpson's final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people," he said, adding the ruling was "skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID."

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, an opponent, said, "It appears to be a clear victory for the right to vote and an example of a judge and the Supreme Court fulfilling the courts' historic role of protecting people's right to vote and resisting the attempt by a temporary majority to disenfranchise the minority."

In his ruling, which could be appealed to the Supreme Court, Simpson ordered an injunction targeting the portion of the law that deals with provisional ballots.

As written, the law said voters who do not bring proper photo ID on Election Day can cast a provisional ballot. They would then have six days to bring in the required photo ID for their votes to count.

But as he had indicated last week during hearings in the case, Simpson decided that the law does not disenfranchise voters simply because it requires poll workers to ask for photo ID. Rather, the risk comes when a voter casts a provisional ballot but then cannot obtain the necessary identification in time.

As a result, Simpson decided that for the Nov. 6 election only, voters without appropriate photo ID could vote.

Attorneys seeking to block the law from taking effect for the next election had contended that anything short of an outright injunction would result in some voters being disenfranchised.

They argued that a partial injunction would create two classes of voters, since election rules require that provisional ballots be counted not on Election Day but at a later date, at which point they could also be subject to challenges from political parties and ultimately not be counted.

Attorneys for Gov. Corbett's administration had countered that an injunction must only address "unlawful activity," and that a court must take care not to drag lawful activity under that umbrella. They pointed out that other courts have said requiring a voter to present photo identification is lawful.

Source: (c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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