Tuesday, October 2, 2012

After Slap from PA Supreme Court, Judge Reverses Course and Blocks PA Voter ID Law

Judge Robert Simpson
In August, you may recall that we wrote about Republican Judge Robert Simpson who, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, ruled that Pennsylvania's new Voter ID Law was fair and would not disenfranchise anybody's ability to vote.  Many claimed that the Voter ID Law was nothing more than a Republican effort to disenfranchise minorities and other likely Obama voters who do not have the specific types of ID required under the new law.  Judge Simpson didn't see it that way.  In the case Applewhite v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, he ruled that:
"I preliminarily conclude [the Voter ID law] has a plainly legitimate sweep.  As discussed below, considering the statute's broad application to all Pennsylvania voters, it imposes only a limited burden on voters' rights, and the burden does not outweigh the statute's plainly legitimate sweep."
Did you get that?  Only a "limited" burden on voters' rights.  In Pennsylvania, state records indicate that approximately 760,000 registered voters (9.2%) do not have the specific ID's required under this law.  At trial, however, the State argued that this number was much lower - somewhere around 80,000 to 90,000 (approx. 1%).  On this issue, Judge Simpson said the following:
"my estimate of the percentage of registered voters who did not have photo ID as of June, 2012, is somewhat more than 1% and significantly less than 9%..."
So Judge Simpson acknowledged that it was at least 80 to 90,000 people who would need to have new ID's issued prior to November's election.  This particular issue was the focus of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court when it heard the appeal of this case.

The PA Supreme Court kicked the case back down to Judge Simpson with a specific set of instructions:  (1) find out exactly how many ID's have been issued by the State so far; (2) find out how many more ID's will need to be issued before November to make sure that everybody can vote; and (3) if everybody will not have an ID before November then you must block this law.

So, after taking a second look what did Judge Simpson discover?  Will everybody have an ID before November as the State claimed?

Not even close.

Judge Simpson acknowledged the following:

As of the most recent hearing, between 9300 and 9500 PennDOT IDs for voting have been issued...I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. For this reason, I accept Petitioners’ argument that in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed. I reject [the State’s] argument that my initial estimate was overblown. Consequently, I am not still convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election. Under these circumstances, I am obliged to enter a preliminary injunction.
But before we count this as a total win for the people of Pennsylvania, Judge Simpson spends a good portion of his opinion (pp. 5-15) carefully defining precisely which parts of the new law are blocked and which parts remain.  For example, he allows the ID requirement to remain in place for all absentee voting.  Also, Judge Simpson refused to block the part of the law that allows election officials to ask for photo ID at the polls.  According to Judge Simpson, election officials are allowed to ask for photo ID but if people do not have the specific type of ID that would have been required under the new law then they are still allowed to vote.

In other words, Pennsylvanians can still be asked for photo ID, but if they don't have it, then they get to vote anyway.  Which begs the question: why even allow election officials to ask in the first place?

Judge Simpson also refused to block the outreach currently being conducted by the State about the new law.  The challengers argued that if this outreach is allowed to continue, it may confuse the public into thinking that they can no longer vote.  The Judge rejected this argument and said the State is still free to continue their outreach efforts.

Lastly, Judge Simpson made it clear that this is only a preliminary injunction which will only last until the November 6, 2012 election.  The people's request for a permanent injunction which would kill this law for good is still open for debate after the election.

1. Is this a win for the people of Pennsylvania?
2. What do you make of Judge Simpson's ruling here?
3. Now that the new voter ID requirement is blocked for this election, how will this impact the election in PA?
4. Is it just me, or is this Judge in the tank for this new law?

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