Pennsylvania Eases Voter ID Rules

Responding to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion that raised questions about the ID card process, the requirement that a voter first attempt to get a traditional Department of Transportation ID card has been eliminated.
by | September 26, 2012

The state judge listening to a new round of arguments on the state's voter identification law concluded the day-long session by directing attorneys to come prepared Thursday to argue what they think a potential injunction should look like.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said it's his responsibility to consider the possibility of halting the new law -- which requires all voters present a photo ID card with an expiration date in order to cast a ballot -- and how to tailor such an action so that it addresses why the law isn't being properly implemented.

"I think it's possible there could be an injunction entered here," he said. "I need some input from people who have been thinking about this longer than I have."

Judge Simpson's remark followed a day of lengthy testimony presented by a group of challengers to the law. Much of the hearing focused on yet another set of changes announced by state officials to their procedures for issuing photo identification cards to voters.

Responding to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion that raised questions about the ID card process, a procedure finalized last night eliminates the requirement that a voter first attempt to get a traditional Department of Transportation ID card before seeking a new card that was created last month as a "last resort."

PennDOT's deputy secretary for safety administration, Kurt Myers, outlined the changes this morning, and they were formally announced by Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele shortly thereafter.

Anyone seeking an ID card for solely voting purposes now can request a Department of State ID card directly and without showing two proofs of residency.

If applicants are not registered to vote, they can fill out a registration form while their ID card is being made. The registration form and ID card then will be mailed to the Department of State for processing, and the ID card will be mailed back to applicants once their voter registration is processed.

Mr. Myers testified that new forms and training materials have been distributed to the state's 71 driver's-license processing centers and that staffers were briefed on the changes during a conference call this morning.

Opponents of the law argued that the additional changes, made five weeks prior to the general election, don't make up for having strict requirements in place since the law's approval in March.

Judge Simpson ruled last month that the new law requiring photo ID of all voters was being implemented appropriately and he declined to grant an injunction halting the statute.

But the state Supreme Court sent a challenge of the law back to the lower court last week, asking it to ensure there is "liberal access" to new voting-only IDs and there will be "no disenfranchisement" of voters on Nov. 6. A supplemental opinion is due back to the Supreme Court by Oct. 2.

Judge Simpson said this morning that he does not intend to wait until that deadline to issue his updated opinion.

"I think the sooner the better for everyone," he told the courtroom audience.

Lawyers from the state American Civil Liberties Union and other challengers of the law will continue to present evidence this afternoon regarding what they view as difficulties for voters in seeking ID cards.

Arguments will continue on Thursday with testimony from people who have been unable to obtain ID.

(c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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