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December 09, 2016
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PA voter ID law punted back to lower court

HARRISBURG, PA — In a four-to-two decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 17 threw the case against the Voter ID law back to the lower court, and told the judge, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, that in order for the law, which is also known as Act 18, to be implemented, the court must make a couple of determinations.

One determination is that the new voter identification card created by the PA Department of State, but which is being distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), is readily accessible in the manner in which Act 18 says it should be to everyone who applies for it.

On a conference call with reporters, a lawyer working for one of the groups challenging the law said the new ID is being denied to many people. Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project in Philadelphia said people are being turned away, and she said there is a second problem in that people who are being turned away believe they are registered, “so there is some disconnect in the data.”

She said earlier in the day, she was working to help a resident who had previously registered to vote obtain an ID, and he could not get one because PennDOT could not locate his registration. While she was trying to help the man, she said, “a guard threw me out.”

The other determination the lower court judge must find is that there is “no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election,” and if he is not convinced of that, he must block the law from taking effect.

A lawyer working for another group challenging the law said that it is nearly impossible for all of the voters who don’t have adequate IDs to obtain one by the date of the election, which would be disenfranchisement. Vic Walczak, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said that as of September 17, the state had issued a total of 9,000 IDs for voting purposes. For the past seven weeks, the state has been issuing IDs at a rate of less than 1,000 per week.

He said, “So even if they were to double that amount between now and election day, that would only be less than 25,000 total IDs, and the lowest estimate for the state is 100,000 voters without photo IDs, so there is still a substantial gap. For the state to close that gap, they would have to issue 13,000 per week, and that’s not going to happen.”

On the issue of what segments of the population might most be harmed by the new law, the Supreme Court wrote, there is no disagreement that the “population involved includes members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society [the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged].

Simpson must make a determination by October 2, and any appeal will be done on an expedited basis.