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Voter ID opponents get big defeat in Pennsylvania

August 15, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


A Pennsylvania judge has upheld the state’s tough voter identification law, in a big win for voter ID supporters and a big loss for opponents.

In a 70-page opinion, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson declined to issue an injunction to stop the law from affecting the November general election.

Simpson lauded the case presented by the American Civil Liberties Union, but he also said there weren’t grounds to hold up implementing the law, which requires citizens to have government-issued photo identification cards to vote.

Simpson said the ACLU’s argument about the difficulty of some voters making arrangements to get ID cards didn’t warrant the "invalidation of all lawful applications" of the law.

He also said the state was resolving problems implementing the law and that it was too late to stop education and outreach efforts to voters.

"This is because the process of implementation in general, and of public outreach and education in particular, is much harder to start, or restart, than it is to stop," Simpson said.

The ACLU will appeal to the state supreme court, but that court has six active members who are split on party lines.

Pennsylvania is a swing state that is seen as strongly leaning toward President Obama in the general election.

But a large number of people affected by the voter ID law live in the greater Philadelphia area, which is heavily Democratic.

The decision also opens the door to legal challenges after the election, if the vote in Pennsylvania is close.

A star witness in the case was 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite, the lead plaintiff, who claimed she couldn’t get the basic documents from the state to vote, despite repeated attempts.

Officials estimate 750,000 to 1.5 million voters in Pennsylvania might lack the IDs needed to vote in November.

According to data from PoliticsPa, about 43 percent of voters in the city of Philadelphia and the urban areas near it don’t have state-issued driver’s ID cards, out of 976,000 registered voters.

So now state officials will be under the gun to handle a lot of voter ID requests before November.

Scott Bomboy in the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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