Pennsylvania's voter identification law is not dead, but it won't likely be in place for Election Day.
A state judge has blocked the GOP-backed requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, landing the latest blow to the party's efforts to tighten voter eligibility across the country. It's the second defeat in less than a week, following the Wisconsin Supreme Court's refusal to reinstate a tough voter ID law there.
The Pennsylvania decision Tuesday (October 2) was another victory for Democrats, who have decried the law as a partisan attempt to suppress voter turnout, particularly among minorities, the poor and the elderly — a group more likely to vote Democratic.
With the November election looming, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled the state had fallen short in ensuring the “liberal access” to photo ID cards or equivalents. The decision came six weeks after Simpson had refused to block the law, ruling it constitutional and saying he trusted officials' assurances of its successful implementation.
The state Supreme Court last month sent back the case, instructing Simpson to look further into the state's preparedness. In Tuesday's ruling, Simpson said the state had issued fewer IDs than he initially expected and that “the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed.”
“I am not still convinced…that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth's implementation of a voter identification requirement,” he wrote.
As Stateline has reported, election officials in Pennsylvania and in other states with new voter ID requirements have faced major hurdles as they prepare for the elections, struggling to educate voters and to ensure access of the IDs.
Simpson did, however, note the state's ID system has grown more efficient over the past weeks. The state has extended hours at the Department of Transportation, created a help desk for potential voters and streamlined its method of validating birthdates.
Although a victory for the law's critics, Simpson's decision does not bar election officials from asking for photo identification — even though it wouldn't be required for voting, a prospect voting rights groups say may lead to confusion.
“We urge the Commonwealth to do everything within its power to ensure that voters are informed that an ID is not necessary this November 6th, and most importantly, that poll workers are properly trained to ensure that every citizen votes a regular ballot that is counted, whether or not they have ID,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement.
Pennsylvania could still appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court before Election Day, but it appears unlikely it will do so.
“We are pleased with Judge Simpson's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the voter ID law,''Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican said in a statement. “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.”