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Voter ID law: Just say 'Huh?'

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Eric Heyl is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. His work appears throughout the week.
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By Eric Heyl

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Talk about bringing clarity to a confusing situation.

Depending on where you stand on the issue, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson's decisive ruling on Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification law left you basking in victorious triumph or glowering in bitter defeat.

Tuesday's 18-page opinion made it clear that people who want to vote next month better be prepared to produce a photo ID. That is, unless they don't want to or they don't have one. In those instances, folks still will be permitted to vote, but only after first being asked by a poll worker for the ID they either don't possess or failed to bring.

The ruling also allows the state to continue advertising the ID requirement, even though ID actually isn't required at the moment.

Got all that?

The ruling for now definitively upholds the law, which 59 percent of state residents favor, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll released last week. It postpones the law's enforcement, continuing its phase-in through the Nov. 6 election.

Simpson's opinion leaves obvious winners and losers:

The winners

• ID proponents: Their valiant effort to combat voluminous instances of undocumented voter fraud again was affirmed by the judge.

• Potentially disenfranchised voters: When next asked for ID at the polls, they can smile smugly and say,”I was so anxious to actively participate in our democracy that I forgot it was in my other coat. Now out of my way, I have a pressing engagement with a voting machine.”

• Poll workers: Won't be immediately subjected to angry outbursts from people who don't understand why their AARP membership card isn't sufficient ID to vote but still gets them discounts at Denny's.

• PennDOT Driver's License-Photo ID Center employees: At least temporarily, they can stop processing paperwork required for voter IDs and return to their core function of shooting dreadful-looking driver's license photos.

The losers

• ID proponents: Will have to suffer through at least one more presumably — though not provably — tainted election before ushering in an era in Pennsylvania in which only the living can vote.

Potentially disenfranchised voters: By the time the May primary arrives, they're going to have to obtain a PennDOT driver's license or non-driver's card, a military, university or nursing home ID, or a passport. That's almost impossible if they don't drive, don't like getting their photo taken, never went to college, never served in the armed forces, never traveled outside the United States or don't reside in an assisted living facility.

• Poll workers: Come May, they'll be laboriously checking IDs like Saturday night bouncers at Station Square nightclubs.

• PennDOT Driver's License-Photo ID Center employees: Regardless of how this increasingly protracted voter ID saga plays out, they still have to endure myriad daily complaints from people dissatisfied with their dreadful-looking driver's license photos.

How pleasant can that be?

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or




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