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Politics & Government

Summer Trial Likely on Voter ID Law

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The case over the state’s voter ID law is likely to land back in Commonwealth Court for a full trial next summer.  That would give the state Supreme Court enough time before November’s general election to hear an appeal. 

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson discussed scheduling issues with lawyers at an hour-long meeting Thursday and said he would issue an order within two weeks.

In October, Simpson blocked the photo ID requirement for the Nov. 6 election. He said he was not convinced that, based on guidelines from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the state had made it possible for voters to easily obtain acceptable IDs.  But the lawyers who sued the commonwealth on behalf of the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP want the law to be overturned completely claiming it's unconstitutional. 

The law is technically in effect now while the courts consider whether to extend the block on implementation and ultimately the law's constitutionality.

Will Voter ID Be Blocked for May Primary?

Vic Walczak, legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, says the commonwealth has issued 16 thousand IDs for voting purposes since the law was passed-- far fewer than the 100 thousand voters the judge estimated to be without proper ID.

“You’ve still got a gap of at least 85-thousand voters who do not have the kind of ID they need to vote,” said Walczak.   “So if you had Election Day tomorrow, you’re talking about 85-thousand people who are going to be disenfranchised.”

Walczak said they will ask for the partial block of voter ID to be extended through the next election so voters won’t have to show photo ID to cast ballots in the May 21 primary.


The commonwealth is asking for a tighter timeframe on a full trial in the voter ID case, arguing both sides pretty much have the information they need to go to trial.  But lawyers for the plaintiffs say they have to find out how the state has been maintaining its voter databases, whether it plans to launch additional voter education campaigns about voter ID, and find out how many more voter IDs have been issued.

Patrick Cawley, a commonwealth attorney, said he’s not sure how the state will respond if the block is extended.

“We’re going to have to take a look at it, because it may be unavoidable given the logistics of what this litigation looks like that we have to do something to alleviate the voter ID requirements for May,” said Cawley.  “I don’t know if that’s going to be the case, but it’s something we have to seriously consider”


Cawley says if it looks like the law won’t be enforced fully for the May primary, he might argue to change how the law is blocked-- for example, requiring people without photo ID to vote by provisional ballot.


A full trial on whether the voter ID law should stand at all has yet to be scheduled. 
The judge says he’ll pick a day, likely next summer, within the next two weeks.