Judge Refuses To Block Strict Voter ID Law in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday a state judge refused to block Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, handing Republicans a big win in the swing-state.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s 70-page order ruled the challengers had failed to establish that any voter disenfranchisement was “immediate or inevitable” so as to justify enjoining the law from taking effect.

At issue is the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters produce a valid photo ID before their ballot can be counted, a substantial change from the law it was designed to replace. That law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time and it allowed non-photo documents such as a utility bill or bank statement. But some of the people who sued over the law say they will be unable to vote because they lack the necessary documents, including a birth certificate, to get a state photo ID, the most widely available of the IDs that are valid under the law.

Simpson ruled that the law “does not expressly disenfranchise or burden any qualified elector or group of electors. The statute simply gives poll workers another tool to verify that the person voting is who they claim to be.” He said that opponents of the law “did an excellent job of ‘putting a face’ to those burdened by the voter ID requirement” but that it wasn’t enough.

“At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issued based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for counsel,” Simpson ruled. “Rather, I must analyze the law, and apply it to evidence of facial unconstitutionality brought forth in the courtroom, tested by our adversarial system.”

The justification for refusing to enjoin the law is that it is harder to stop and restart the process of preparing to administer elections under the new voter ID law. Of course, that justification presumes as its default the validity of the restrictions. In other words, Simpson’s mind was made up before the plaintiffs entered the courtroom. To be fair, Simpson’s also bound by law that starts out with the presumptions that all bills are constitutional unless proven otherwise, but in denying the injunction he made it clear he didn’t think plaintiff’s had a case.

Opponents of the bill are expected to file an appeal within the next day or two. “We’re not done, it’s not over,” said Witold J. Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who helped argue the case for the plaintiffs. “It’s why they make appeals courts.”

The Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation to determine if the law violates federal voting laws.

The ruling doesn’t reach all the issues before the court, but that may ultimately prove irrelevant. Absent an emergency ruling by the appellate court the law will go into effect while the parties fight over the remaining legalities of the bill. Even if the court ultimately strikes the law, that ruling will be appealed and it will be years before the issue is ultimately resolved. The damage will have been done and it could be permanent.

Related Stories:

Pennsylvania Voter ID Trial Starts Under Federal Scrutiny

Over 750,000 Pennsylvanians Could Be Disenfranchised By Voter ID Law

Photo from Alan Cleaver via flickr.


Lawrence Travers
Lawrence Travers6 years ago

Time for the 47% to have a tea party on on the "Tea Partyers". Let's hope most of them don't know how to swim.

Michael G.
Michael T6 years ago

Good for you Phyl. Ah, let me know how that delusion plays out for you.

Phyl M.
Bul M6 years ago

I am 100% in favor of voter ID!!!!!!!!

Pam B.
Pam B.6 years ago

i know about inability to obtain documents from government they like to play games sometimes the clerks love their power. I tried after hurricane katrina to get a copy of grandson's ss card. wen to office with birth certiicate. they wanted medicals record, he had not been ill in hospital would not accept dr's office records. got copy of birth medical records, went back the clerk than sstated we needed school records! got them and went back, tis went back and forth with none of the records being o requred list for several months. I had todrive 40miles one way. After all this I was than told could not get it because i was not parent although he lived with me at this time. AARGH

Debra Griffin
Missy G6 years ago


Mitchell D.
Mitchell D6 years ago

This is why the conservatives do not like the ACLU; wow, what, you want fairness in this country, are you out of your progressive minds?

Frances C.
Frances C6 years ago

And, illegal immigrants do not try to vote. They basically stay in the shadows. Does anyone believe that they would risk committing that crime and being jailed or deported after it cost them so much to get here? That defies logic. I know that the tea party doesn't understand logic, but, come on, This is ridiculous. Suppressing the vote illegal, UN-American, and unpatriotic.

Carole L.
Lowell L6 years ago

Lydia S
“An illegal immigrant does NOT have a "Constitutionally guaranteed right" to vote -- UNLESS and UNTIL he is allowed to LEGALLY remain in the US and becomes a NATURALIZED CITIZEN!

I KNOW this, as I was a LEGAL immigrant with "Permanent Resident Status", but I could NOT vote UNTIL I became a NATURALIZED CITIZEN of the United States! Period!”

Precisely, so the old argument that illegal immigrants can register and vote is as real as unicorns. Which supports those of us who argue against voter ID. So, if as many state is the ‘reason behind” voter ID is because of illegal immigrants registering to vote is false.

David C.
David C6 years ago

One aspect of the decision that hasn't been mentioned. The judge wrote something like "Those having difficulty getting a voter ID can vote absentee. All you need is the last four digits of your SSN."

This is remarkable on two counts. (1) Absentee voting HAS been a source of voter fraud unlike impersonation. (2) In PA, you can legally vote absentee only if you affirm you'll be away on voting day (business, duty, occupation - vacation isn't mentioned) or you get a physician to affirm that you are ill or disabled. Neither applies to an individual like the 93 year old plaintiff. The judge is suggesting fraudulent absentee voting?

Dr Clue
Dr Clue6 years ago

@Paula M. [As an interesting update to this story, the lead Plaintiff in this case was able to obtain a photo ID after all: http://mobile.philly.com/news/?wss=/philly/news/breaking/&id=166490216&viewAll=y#more ]

Of course as the story you cited mentioned, exceptions were made to get her that ID that with the same documentation has been denied her for years.