Judge Robert Simpson issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday morning, halting part of Pennsylvania's tough new Voter ID Law from affecting the November presidential election.
While the decision does not repeal the law that requires citizens to show photo identification to vote, if upheld, the ruling allows registered voters to cast ballots without an ID.
Any appeal of Tuesday's ruling will be expedited by the state Supreme Court since Election Day is just five weeks away.
To issue an injunction on the law, Simpson was tasked to consider two questions:
- Does the issuance of IDs "comport with liberal access" that the General Assembly required?
- Will no voter disenfranchisement exist if the law is implemented this fall?
Simpson, of Nazareth, is a former Northampton County judge.
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Both supporters and opponents of the law reacted to the ruling on Twitter. State Rep. Mike Turzai, a controversial figure in the Voter ID law debate, issued a statement on the ruling.
In returning the case to Simpson, the commonwealth's Supreme Court said then-current procedures were "contrary" to liberal access—a directive from the General Assembly.
Essentially, people had to travel at least twice to state facilities to receive free IDs. Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation eased that requirement to allow people to get IDs in one trip—with the Department of State on-hand to verify voter registration.
Although state officials testified that this will ensure people receive IDs, Simpson wrote he rejected it for three reasons:
- It relies on "assurances of government officials," which the Supreme Court disagreed with;
- The five-week run-up time to Election Day is too short;
- Officials testified that there was a potential for "unforeseen problems which impede implementation...
"For these reasons, I cannot conclude the proposed changes cure the deficiency in liberal access identified by the Supreme Court," Simpson wrote.
In the original ruling, Simpson doubted arguments against the law on the ability to close the gap between eligible voters and those without approved IDs. He felt disenfranchisement would be minimal.
However, PennDOT recently testified it issued between 9,300 and 9,500 IDs for voting, and the Department of State issued between 1,300 and 1,350. Although driver's licenses increased in that period compared to 2011, it was too "slight" for Simpson.
"I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. For this reason, I accept (the plaintiff's) 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," he said.
Election Day... and Beyond
Not all aspects of the Voter ID Law will be thrown out for Election Day. The plaintiffs conceded that requirements for absentee ballot (writing driver's license or Social Security numbers) do not cause injury. Additionally, poll workers can still request ID—as they did during the April primary. However, Simpson's ruling allows people to vote come Election Day without providing photo identification.
The preliminary injunction will only last until the general election. Simpson's interpretation of the Supreme Court's directive was to rule only on certain aspects of the law. As it stands now, he will later rule on a permanent injunction after the election. A status hearing is set for Dec. 13.
Just because Simpson delayed implementation does not mean he rejects the Voter ID Law. In his opinion, he credited Pennsylvania agencies with streamlining the birth date validation process, creating a help line and extending hours.
"These existing structural improvements, together with the proposed enhanced access to the DOS ID and additional time, will place the Commonwealth in a better position going forward," he wrote.
Other Voter ID Measures
A wave of new voter identification requirements has been approved in the past few years, primarily by Republican-controlled Legislatures.
- The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008
- Georgia's top court upheld that state's voter ID law
- A federal court panel struck down Texas' voter ID law
- The state court in Wisconsin has blocked its voter ID laws for now.
- The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law earlier this year
- A federal court is reviewing South Carolina's law