Commonwealth Court judge says no voter ID ruling today
HARRISBURG — The Commonwealth Court judge considering a challenge to the voter ID law strongly suggested on Thursday that he’s looking for middle ground in enforcing it on Nov. 6 rather than striking it down.
Judge Robert Simpson, ordered by the state Supreme Court to decide whether an injunction is appropriate, told lawyers for the state and for a coalition of opposition groups that if he blocks the law, he is wrestling with “what it will look like if I do.”
He said one option is to ask for photo ID on Nov. 6 and let those without ID cast provisional ballots, as the law allows. Under one scenario he suggested, those provisional ballots would still be counted.
The law requires that people who cast provisional ballots prove within six days that they have photo ID.
“We do not see a remedy short of enjoining the ID requirement at the polls in the next election,” said Vic Walczak, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that sued to block the law.
But Alicia Hickok, a partner at Drinker Biddle in Philadelphia representing Gov. Tom Corbett and the Department of State, told Simpson the Sept. 18 Supreme Court ruling gave him discretion. She said state and PennDOT officials have made every effort to get people free voter ID cards.
“When there was a problem, they worked overtime to solve it,” she said.
A new policy requiring no documents to obtain a Department of State voter ID satisfied the “liberal access” described by the Supreme Court.
Hickok said she will submit a proposal instructing those casting provisional ballots to fill out a form attesting that they were unable to get voter ID for this election.
Walczak asked Simpson to disregard testimony about the state’s new policy for ID cards. Simpson indicated he might not place great weight on it.
Attorneys for those challenging the law say it risks the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters. A recent Franklin & Marshall poll showed 99 percent of sampled voters said they had photo ID.
Simpson expressed concern that only 11,000 voters have gotten photo ID since March, when Corbett, a Republican, signed the law approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Under Simpson’s compromise, counting provisional ballots would avoid voters being turned away. He suggested that might give the state a better idea of how many voters don’t have voter ID.“I believe he would not strike down the entire law,” Hickok told reporters afterward. “But I cannot predict what the court will do.”
Simpson upheld the law in August. The high court sent it back asking for a virtual guarantee no voter would be disenfranchised. The highly charged partisan debate over the law has been marked by opponents calling it tantamount to a “poll tax” and supporters saying there was a need to halt voter fraud.
In a separate matter, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Don Bailey filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Harrisburg claiming the voter ID law violates the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].