Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Judge Won't Block Pennsylvania Voter-ID Law - Wall Street Journal

Bring Your I.D.

See a state-by-state breakdown of voter-identification requirements.

A Pennsylvania judge rejected a challenge to the state's controversial voter-identification law Wednesday, saying opponents failed to show that the law violates the state's constitution and setting the stage for an expected appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The measure, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March, requires Pennsylvania's 8.2 million registered voters to present a state-approved photo ID, such as a driver's license, at the polls on Nov. 6.

Democrats in the state have said they believe the law would disproportionately impact poor urban voters and others more likely to vote for President Barack Obama and other Democrats in November. State Republicans said the law was developed over the past decade and wasn't politically motivated.

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters, said the law, known as Act 18, violates the state's constitution. The constitution guarantees the right to vote, and the groups sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the law from taking effect.

These groups, who have said the law could prevent more than a million voters from casting ballots on Election Day, on Wednesday said they would appeal. The judge previously said he would rule quickly in order to leave enough time for a potential appeal to play out ahead of the election.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson rejected claims that the law would disenfranchise certain voters. "On its face, Act 18 applies equally to all qualified electors: to vote in person, everyone must present a photo ID that can be obtained for free," Judge Simpson wrote in the decision released Wednesday. "The statute simply gives poll workers another tool to verify that the person voting is who they claim to be."

The judge ruled only on whether to grant a preliminary injunction but said he wouldn't rule on the full merits of the case.

"We are disappointed but will seek to appeal," said David Gersch, a Washington-based attorney for the plaintiffs. "At trial, we demonstrated that there are about a million registered voters who lack the ID necessary to vote under Pennsylvania's photo-ID law. If the court's decision stands, a lot of those people will not be able to vote in November."

The decision is a victory for Gov. Corbett and other Republicans who backed the law and said it gives voters ample time to obtain an ID before the election. The law is one of numerous such measures enacted across the country over the past two years as Republican lawmakers have sought to crack down on what they say is widespread voter fraud.

Pennsylvania officials announced a plan last month to create a free card for residents unable to get another approved form of identification. "Everyone who needs ID to vote will be able to get it months before the election," Carol Aichele, secretary of the commonwealth, said at the time.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the judge's ruling will affect a review of the law by the U.S. Justice Department. The department is seeking information on whether the Pennsylvania law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate against minorities. The department last month asked Ms. Aichele, a Republican, to provide documentation supporting the state's estimate that 758,000 voters don't have an ID issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. (Many of the people in that estimate could have other approved forms of ID.)

The Justice Department also asked for documentation to support Gov. Corbett's statement in March that "99% of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID." During lawmakers' early debates about the proposed legislation, the state initially estimated 89,000 people were without approved IDs.

Thirty states have laws in place that will require voters to show ID before voting in November, up from 24 states four years ago, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin passed voter-ID laws last year. Laws passed in Texas and South Carolina are tied up in federal court. In March, a state judge said Wisconsin's voter-ID law violated that state's constitution.

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