Judge won’t halt Pa. voter identification law

A Pennsylvania judge won’t stop a tough new voter identification law from going into effect.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson Wednesday refused to grant an injunction that would have halted the law requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID.

Opponents are expected to file a prompt appeal to the state Supreme Court as the Nov. 6 presidential election looms.  The law is the subject of a furious debate over voting rights. People challenging it include some who say they’ll be unable to vote.

Advocates in Philadelphia, who expressed disappointment Wednesday morning, said they hope that the ruling would have a galvanizing effect on get-out-the-vote efforts.

“When I heard this news, I jumped up, literally. And this ruling is going to make people jump up, people who have been saying, ‘Oh, you know, the courts are going to probably stop it,'” said Philadelphia City Commissioners Chair Stephanie Singer.

“I think people feel they will have to start right now, really working hard in their own neighborhoods, in their own communities to make sure everybody has the ID they need,” added Singer, the only Philadelphia commissioner to sign an amicus brief in support of the suit.  

‘No time to cry’

“It’s sad, but there’s no time to cry,” said Will Gonzales of Ceiba, a Latino groups coalition. “We just have to continue to help people comply with the law. We understand that there’s good folks appealing it, but while they’re doing their job, we in the community are going to do our job and help people know about the law and be ready to comply with it.”

A Department of State spokesman agreed that it’s time to focus on making sure all Pennsylvania voters have the ID they need to cast their ballots in the November sixth election.

Voters can expect to see mailings and ads before November explaining the law, says Ron Ruman, department spokesman.

“We’re going to continue working through the media to get the word out and in a few weeks, we’re planning to be starting our paid media campaign,” Ruman said. “So we’re going to go full steam ahead unless we’re told otherwise by a court.”

Simpson’s ruling included the preliminary opinion that Pennsylvania’s law will withstand a constitutional challenge.

 

Gov. Tom Corbett, who signed the controversial bill in March that requires voters to show ID at the polls, said that he looks forward to preparing Pennsylvanians for the November election.

“Now that the court has upheld the constitutionality of the law, we can continue to focus our attention on ensuring that every Pennsylvania citizen who wants to vote has the identification necessary to make sure their vote counts,” said Corbett in a written statement.

Corbett’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele also said she is pleased by Simpson’s decision to uphold the law.

“This law will reinforce the principle of one person, one vote. By giving us a reliable way to verify the identity of each voter, the voter ID law will enhance confidence in our elections,” said Aichele, who heads the department that oversees elections in Pennsylvania.

Legal battle far from over

Jennifer Clarke, an attorney representing the plaintiffs from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said the legal battle regarding the Pennsylvania law is not over yet.

“He [the judge] did not rule on the constitutionality, but as part of the analysis of the preliminary injunction, he has to decide whether or not we’re likely to win in the long run. And he ruled that we are not likely to win in the long run,” explained Clarke of the judge’s decision to block the injunction.  “Obviously, we disagree with the court’s ruling and we will appeal it.”

Democrats say the law will make it harder for the elderly, minorities, poor and young adults to vote, and is designed to help Republican challenger Mitt Romney beat Democratic President Barack Obama.

The judge called House Majority Leader Mike Turzai’s much-discussed statement that voter ID would “allow” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania “disturbing,” but said it doesn’t mean all members of the General Assembly feel similarly and that the bill was motivated by partisanship.

Ruman echoed that point.

“Representative Turzai’s comments did not reflect the position of the Corbett administration in general, or the Pennsylvania Department of State in particular,” he said.

Republicans who control the Legislature and the governor’s office say they think it’ll prevent voter fraud.

The Committee of Seventy is offering a voter ID coalition hotline to answer questions regarding the new law 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

Read Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson’s opinion below.

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Pennsylvania decision voter ID August 2012 081512 (PDF)

Pennsylvania decision voter ID August 2012 081512 (Text)

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