Pennsylvania Court Reconsiders Voter ID Availability
By Sophia Pearson - Sep 25, 2012 12:00 AM ET
The Pennsylvania judge who last month upheld a law requiring voters to show photo identification is scheduled today to hear arguments over whether people will be able to comply before the general election in November.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Sept. 18 ordered Commonwealth Judge Richard E. Simpson to consider whether all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. Simpson ruled Aug. 15 that plaintiffs including the American Civil Liberties Union hadn’t proved the law would disenfranchise voters. The state high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2.
“The Commonwealth’s actions have been insufficient to forestall the possibility of disenfranchisement at the November elections,” Dorian Hurley of Arnold & Porter LLP said in court papers filed yesterday on behalf of the ACLU. “The evidence will show that disenfranchisement is not only possible; it is probable.”
The case is among multiple court battles over voting rules in states including Florida, Ohio andWisconsin, where Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns see the possibility of victory. A state analysis found the photo requirement might exclude as much as 9 percent of Pennsylvania’s electorate from voting in the presidential election.
Attorneys for South Carolina yesterday argued for their state’s voter-ID law before a panel of federal judges in Washington.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, carried Pennsylvania, which has 20 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency, by 620,478 votes in 2008, fewer than the number of voters that might be kept from the polls in November, the ACLU and advocacy groups said.
Simpson’s review comes as several Pennsylvania counties have announced plans to issue voter IDs through county-run nursing homes and colleges exploiting a loophole in the measure. Pennsylvania’s law, enacted in March, requires voters to present a state-issued ID or an acceptable alternative such as a military ID, to cast a ballot.
The law allows Pennsylvania care facilities and accredited colleges and universities to issue identification cards to anyone as long the cards show an expiration date. Officials in Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, and Montgomery County said last week they would begin issuing their own ID cards through county-run nursing homes and a community college starting Oct. 1.
Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which governs elections, said it’s discouraging that process because of security risks.
“We believe it’s legal within the law but it brings up security issues with those facilities,” Matt Keeler, a department spokesman, said in a phone interview. “This wasn’t part of the bill’s intent.”
Opponents of the law said likely Democratic voters, such as the elderly and the poor, are those least likely to have a valid ID by Election Day. The Department of State on Aug. 27 began offering new ID cards as a last resort for those unable to obtain a valid substitute.
The state Supreme Court said in its Sept. 18 ruling that the state wasn’t living up to the law’s requirement that it provide “liberal access” to alternate forms of ID. In order to decide whether the measure can be implemented, more details are needed about the availability of the Department of State’s ID, the court held.
The state has issued only 9 percent of the minimum number of IDs it estimates are needed, the ACLU said. About 1,000 cards were issued in the first three weeks they were available, state officials countered. That’s in addition to about 9,000 cards issued by Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation since March, the state said in court papers filed yesterday.
The Department of State also eliminated the “exhaustion” requirement for its card, allowing voters to apply directly without first applying for a Transportation Department ID.
The Supreme Court’s ruling “did not find that the requirements of the voter ID statute itself were unconstitutional,” Patrick Cawley, an attorney for the state, said in the filing.
“Nor did it find that the statute could not be applied in a constitutional manner. Instead it remanded to this court, asking that the court evaluate whether the DOS identification card is actually available and is being issued in a manner that comports with the General Assembly’s expressed intentions,” Cawley said.
The case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330 MD 2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg)
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