In Voting Rights Victory, PA Voters Cannot Be Required to Present Photo at the Polls this Nov.

Court Found Commonwealth Officials Unprepared to Implement the Law for November Election

Contact: Rich Robinson, Advancement Project at 202-728-9557, x338 or rrobinson@advancementproject.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 2, 2012

(Harrisburg, PA) – In a decision protecting the rights of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania today issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s voter ID law. Reversing his earlier ruling, Judge Robert Simpson said that Pennsylvania officials failed to show that they could make ID cards easily available to voters in time for this November’s elections. The decision guarantees that strict photo identification requirements will not be in place for voters participating in November’s general elections.

“We are very glad voters will not be turned away from the polls this November if they do not have a photo ID,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The evidence made it clear to the judge that this law would indeed disenfranchise voters and that the Commonwealth was not equipped to implement it fairly.”

In the case, brought by attorneys from Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP, the Commonwealth Court reviewed new evidence that the state’s law not only imposed significant burdens on the right to vote without justification, but also that the state lacked the capacity to effectively or fairly implement the law. Our attorneys presented the following claims:

  • PennDOT representatives were untrained and unprepared. Citizens described going to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) centers only to receive wrong information about the documents required and get turned away. Others were met by officials who knew very little about the law, or who made them purchase their so-called “free” ID card.
  • Officials were unable to process enough cards. Witnesses also reported long lines with two and three-hour wait times, and facilities that did not issue the state’s new voting-only cards. Officials had not opened centers in counties without PennDOT offices, nor created any mobile voter ID units, and they had no plan to assist the elderly, disabled and financially disadvantaged without charging them a fee.
  • Voter education efforts were inadequate. Mailings from the state had no practical information about how to get acceptable photo ID, and the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website failed to mention its voting-only ID at all. Radio advertising was not scheduled to start until October, and much of the print campaign was limited to October as well – just weeks before Election Day.

The court found this evidence compelling. "I cannot conclude the [Commonwealth's] proposed changes [in issuance of ID's] cure the deficiency in liberal access identified by the Supreme Court," Judge Simpson wrote in his ruling, concluding, “in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed.” The court ruled that the Commonwealth may continue it’s “slow rollout” process for the photo ID law; while poll workers may ask voters for ID this November, they can’t turn away voters who don’t have one.

“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls and this could cause confusion,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy. We urge the Commonwealth to do everything within its power to ensure that voters are informed that an ID is not necessary this November 6th, and most importantly, that poll workers are properly trained to ensure that every citizen votes a regular ballot that is counted, whether or not they have ID.” 

The case will continue, with plans for a trial on the law at some point in the future.

You can read the full ruling here.