By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters who don’t have proper identification have until the next primary election to get a photo ID.
But how the state plans to unfold this effort is unclear at this time, while the law’s biggest challengers say they’re on a mission to educate voters.
The controversial voter ID law took a hit but did not go down in the fight, when Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued a partial injunction Tuesday that allows those without proper identification to cast a ballot.
This latest development followed criticism that the law was a ploy from Republicans to disenfranchise Democratic voters. The state responded by changing requirements for obtaining an ID.
At issue in the latest hearing was whether this ID was available enough to voters before this election, on which Simpson showed his doubts due to the impending date.
As of Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett said the administration is still going over how it will proceed with educational advertising and information about the law. The state has television ads, telling voters they must have ID, which is now not the case. But it will continue its “efforts to urge voters to secure identification and be prepared to present it,” Corbett said.
Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University in Houston and expert on election law, said states with voter ID laws must be cautious.
“As long as … the legitimacy of the system is still protected, then there shouldn’t be any real complaints with allowing additional IDs, or providing some flexibility for state officials in the event a birth certificate isn’t available,” Jones said. “But if your goal is a political one, than anything meant to reduce the barrier and reduce the obstacles to obtaining the voter ID defeats the overall purpose of the law.”
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, the bill’s original sponsor, said this decision undercuts the original purpose of “one person, one vote.”
“Ultimately, once again, this opens up our process to a greater possibility of voter fraud being perpetrated the polls,” he said.
Since the law was passed in March, the state made multiple changes to what it considered a valid ID. That included introducing a Department of State-issued photo IDs for voting purposes only, then changing the requirements to obtain that ID, like dropping proofs of address.
Estimates from different sources suggested anywhere from 100,000 to 758,000 voters did not have proper voter ID. Around 12,000 state and non-driver’s IDs have been issued since the law was enacted, according to state estimates.
Democrats statewide called the ruling a victory, but didn’t hesitate to muse on the lessons learned.
State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, said in a statement that the administration should learn not to rush legislation, and the state moved too quickly to implement the law.
The state wasted at least $6 million in the process, he said.
“Unfortunately, the mad rush to get this done in time to change the outcome of the presidential election means the waste of millions of tax dollars,” he said.
Corbett and a lead attorney for the petitioners in the case said they’re comfortable with the “soft rollout” process for requiring identification. And, both sides say they’ll work to educate voters on what the law is for its full implementation in the next election.
Corbett, speaking to reporters about the decision Tuesday at a Mitt Romney event here, said the partial injunction shows an abundance of caution to ensure that the law disenfranchises no one. He also said the decision is consistent with the commonwealth’s latest suggestion to keep the law in place but not have ID mandatory until the next primary election.
Corbett said he still believed people should have a proper photo ID to identify themselves when they vote.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m disappointed or not (in the ruling). It really doesn’t. This is what the court has ruled,” he said.
Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, a petitioner in the case, said the decision is a big win for Pennsylvania’s voters, who know their votes will count this November.
But the ACLU and other groups like civil rights group Advancement Project, will be educating voters on what the law means now.
The petitioners will now turn their focus to making sure the Department of State withdrawals it ad campaign that says voters must have an ID in order to vote. That would be a misleading statement, given the judge’s order, Walczak said.
“There’s a possibility for confusion by voters, and folks without ID might stay home because they wrongly believe they need ID,” he said. “Anytime you have confusion on Election Day, it’s not a good thing for democracy.”