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December 10, 2016
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PA judge partially blocks voter ID law

HARRISBURG, PA — A Pennsylvania judge has blocked part of the controversial new Voter ID Law, which would require all voters to produce a state-approved voter photo ID in order to vote.

Judge Robert Simpson had been ordered to revisit the case by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Before he issued his ruling, state officials made changes to the process of obtaining a photo ID through the Department of State (DOS) to address the Supreme Court's reservations about the process, and they sought to assure Judge Robert Simpson that the process would work.

Simpson however, said, as the Supreme Court had instructed, he could not rely only on the word of officials in making his determination. He also had other concerns.

He wrote, "The proposed changes are to occur about five weeks before the general election, and I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access."

And, "The proposed changes are accompanied by candid admissions by government officials that any new deployment will reveal unforeseen problems which impede implementation. These admissions were corroborated by anecdotal evidence offered by Petitioners regarding the initial roll out of the DOS IDs in August."

Therefore, the judge blocked portions of the law, specifically the part that requires all voters to produce approved photo IDs in the general election on November 6.

Polling workers will still be able to ask voters to see a photo ID, but if the voter does not have one he or she won't be prevented from voting.

However, the 17-page ruling makes clear that the law may be allowed to go ahead later if the other reservations about the law can be successfully addressed by state officials.

Additionally, the judge ruled that the state could continue with its voting education campaign which as of now still contains the message that voters need a photo ID.

Witold J. Walczak, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, one of three groups challenging the las, said the groups are having conversations with the state, and if the education campaign continues without changes, "we may be back in court."

David Gersch, of the Washington-based law firm Arnold and Porter, said this ruling does not settle the matter of whether or not the lawsuit is constitutional, but only the question of whether it will be implemented in the election in November.

Gersch said the constitutional questions surrounding the law, such as whether it puts undo burdens on the elderly and other groups in trying to obtain a photo ID, will be answered in the ongoing litigation process, for which another court session is scheduled for December.

However, Governor Tom Corbett said the judge did uphold the constitutionality of the law. He and Secretary of State Carol Aichele issued a statement saying, "We are pleased with Judge Simpson’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of the
voter ID law. While we believe we have made it possible for every registered voter who needs voter identification to obtain one, we’ll continue our efforts for the next election and all future elections, to make sure every registered
voter has the proper identification in an effort to preserve the integrity of our voting process in Pennsylvania.”

It is not yet clear if the state will appeal the judge’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

State Representative Mike Turzai, who championed the law, issued a statement saying, “Voter identification is about ensuring the integrity of our elections and preserving the principle of the ‘one person, one vote’ doctrine. When votes are diluted through fraud, the system starts to break down. Voter identification has always been about creating a level playing field where every Pennsylvanian’s vote represents an equal opportunity to have a voice in government.”

However, state lawyers who argued the case agreed to the stipulation that there is no evidence in Pennsylvania of any voter fraud of the sort the law was intended to prevent, and they also stipulated that they were not aware of any fraud in other states.