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Judge blocks parts of Pennsylvania voter ID law; Corbett not sure about appeal

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, 10:21 a.m.
Homewood resident Danis Watts gets his voter photo identification at the CCAC Homewood-Brushton campus Monday, October 1, 2012. This is the first session of the county providing free photo ID's for those intending to vote in the upcoming election.
(Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Homewood resident Danis Watts gets his voter photo identification at the CCAC Homewood-Brushton campus Monday, October 1, 2012. This is the first session of the county providing free photo ID's for those intending to vote in the upcoming election. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

HARRISBURG — A Commonwealth Court judge on Tuesday kept part of the voter ID law intact, ruling the state can ask for photo ID in the Nov. 6 election, but people without it still can vote.

The November election will be similar to the “soft rollout” used in the April primary when voter ID was optional.

Opponents of the law claimed victory while its supporters denounced the decision as “judicial activism.” Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who signed the law in March, said he is not inclined to appeal.

”It doesn't matter whether I am disappointed or not,” he said. “This is the way the court has ruled.”

Groups that sued to block the law said it would disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters who could not get ID. Judge Robert Simpson granted an injunction “in part.”

“I question whether sufficient time exists for liberal access” to ID despite improved efforts by state officials, Simpson wrote. “I am still not convinced ... that there will never be voter disenfranchisement.”

He also blocked language that would have discounted provisional ballots for voters without ID who could not verify their identity within six days. The law required voters to show a driver's license or non-driver's card from PennDOT, or a passport, military, university or local government or nursing home ID. It required PennDOT to issue free non-driver IDs to people without driver's licenses.

“For this election, you don't have to prove you are who you say you are. As someone who believed in the purpose of the law, I think it's a disappointing decision,” said Katie Goldman, chairwoman of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

The raging partisan and legal battle centers on a law approved by a Republican General Assembly. Democrats claim it is a purely political attempt to suppress voter turnout in their party, part of a national effort among states with Republican legislatures.

“It is a clear victory in terms of the photo ID requirement being blocked for this election, which is the only thing we were asking at this time,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for ACLU of Pennsylvania, one of the groups that sued to block the law. “The only hesitation we have is whether the commonwealth will be putting out misleading information about the ID requirement on Election Day.”

Simpson said there will be a trial after the election on opponents' request for a permanent injunction; a conference for attorneys is scheduled in December.

Walczak said the state's outreach material “has to reflect the reality that no ID is needed on Election Day.”

Corbett said the state would fix its advertising if necessary.

“We just want people to understand if they don't have a state ID, they should go to the polls and vote as they always have voted,” said Barney Oursler, executive director of Pittsburgh United, a community advocacy group.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry, chief architect of the law, called the decision “out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people.”

The ruling is “skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the common-sense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID,” Metcalfe said. He labeled it “judicial activism.”

Simpson, a Republican, upheld the law in August. Opponents appealed to the Supreme Court, which last month vacated the order and sent it back to Simpson.

The high court's 4-2 ruling instructed Simpson to issue an injunction unless he was convinced steps taken by the state ensured that voters would not be disenfranchised.

Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the state's Department of State, said the agency “is pleased the judgment in effect has upheld the voter ID law for future elections.”

“Every voter will be asked for ID this fall” under Simpson's ruling, he said.

Reaction from lawmakers fell along party lines.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said the order “ensures that no citizen will be deprived of the constitutional right to vote as a result of the voter suppression law pushed through by Gov. Corbett and Republican legislators.”

Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, called it “a victory for voters. The Corbett Administration was ill-prepared to comply with this troubling law.”

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, continued to insist it was about “one person, one vote” despite telling the Republican State Committee in June the law would help Mitt Romney carry Pennsylvania.

Estimates of those without ID ranged from 79,000 to more than a million. About 12,500 people got free IDs since March, Ruman said.

Allegheny County will suspend its distribution of photo ID to any Pennsylvania voter through the Community College of Allegheny County and Kane Regional Centers, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. The 33 IDs it issued this week are good through 2017.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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