BREAKING – Republican Judge Blocks Pennsylvania Photo ID Law

The lower court judge who initially upheld the state’s new Photo ID Law in August, has blocked implementation of Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter Photo ID Law for the November 6th General Election.  In his much-anticipated decision, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, issued an injunction against enforcement of the law.

While he did not strike down the law, voters who do not have the state or federally acceptable forms of photo identification, will not be required to vote by provisional ballot or return within six-days to produce the required ID and have their votes counted. While this is a major victory against ongoing nationwide Republican-generated laws and other attempts to drive down voter turnout, it is only a partial victory as the injunction only applies to the upcoming election. In making his ruling, Judge Simpson said:

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. As a result, I will not restrain election officials from asking for photo ID at the polls; rather, I will enjoin enforcement of those parts of Act 18 which directly result in disenfranchisement. . . .

As to voter disenfranchisement, I carefully reviewed the language of the Election Code after amendment by Act 18. The language of disenfranchisement is found in the part of the Election Code dealing with provisional ballots: “A provisional ballot shall not be counted if ….” This language pre-existed Act 18, but Act 18 added two new circumstances when a provisional vote will not be counted. Both of these new circumstances relate to electors who are unable to produce proof of identification. . . .

Thus, disenfranchisement expressly occurs during the provisional ballot part of the in-person voting process, which is addressed in subsections (a.2) and (a.4) of Section 1210. It is this part of the process which must be enjoined to prevent disenfranchisement.

Had the judge not issued his injunction, voters not processing the required photo ID would have been able to cast ‘provisional ballots’ but such voters would have been required to return within six days to produce acceptable, prescribed photo ID.

In a report Sunday on it was thought that Judge Simpson, a Republican, might actually defy the essence of the remand order by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and uphold the immediate implementation of onerous requirements of the Pennsylvania Photo ID Law, enacted in March by the Republican legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Tom Corbett.

On September 18th, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated Judge Simpson’s August 15th decision, upholding the law. By a 4-2 vote, the state’s highest court, remanded the case back to the lower court. Judge Simpsons earlier ruling had drawn substantial heat and criticism from a whole host of civil rights activists. Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, has said that the new ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Judge Simpson—in his August ruling—said Turzai’s remarks were “disturbing,” and “tendentious,” yet cited-then– that since the law applies equally to all voters it does not violate any constitutional protections, concluding that it, “does not expressly disenfranchise or burden any qualified elector or group of electors. It imposes only a limited burden on voters’ rights, and the burden does not outweigh the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep.”

Last Week, after presenting further evidence and making oral arguments to Judge Simpson, the plaintiffs filed a 26-page Post Hearing Brief (PDF), which recites the specifics of the high court’s remand:

The Supreme Court directed this Court to issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the Act of March 14, 2012, P.L. 195, No. 18 (“Photo ID Law”), unless: (1) “the procedures being used for deployment of the [Department of State identification (“DOS ID”)] cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of [Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”)] identification cards,” and (2) this

Court is “convinced . . . that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election.” Applewhite v. Commonwealth, No. 71 MAP 2012, 2012 WL 4075899, at *3 (Pa. Sept. 18, 2012). The evidence demonstrates that neither condition is satisfied. This Court accordingly “is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction” barring enforcement of the photo identification requirement at the upcoming election.

As AI reported in an earlier article, the supreme court’s  7-page order (PDF) gave the lower court until October 2nd to determine the impact and the ability of the state to insure voting eligibility protections. The lower court was presented arguments by plaintiffs and advocacy groups to overturn the law on constitutional grounds, but – more compellingly – that there is simply not enough time or state facilities available to get the required Photo ID’s into the hands of upwards of 750,000 voters impacted by the new requirement by the November 6th General Election.

It has been reported that only 9,000 additional eligible voters have – so far – been able to get the required photo ID, spending needed money to get supporting documentation (birth certificates, etc.), travelling long distances and waiting in lines for hours at state Department of Transportation Offices.

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