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Corbett won't appeal state court ruling that struck down voter ID law

| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 5:43 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett said on Thursday that he will not appeal a state court ruling against the voter identification law he signed in 2012, and he and legislative leaders said they won't pursue another version during the rest of the legislative session through November.

“The administration will work with the General Assembly to address these issues,” said Corbett, a Shaler Republican. “However, through the current legislative term, we must remain focused on passing a balanced budget and addressing ongoing legislative priorities.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn of Millvale called voter ID “a blatant, political scheme designed to confuse and disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters.”

Corbett is in the midst of a tough re-election fight.

“It's an election year — maybe that's what he has in mind,” said Bridget Jeffery, political science and criminal justice professor at Edinboro University.

“It seemed like a losing battle, with the way the courts were going,” said Bev Cigler, a political science professor at Penn State University's Harrisburg campus. But even with his decision not to appeal to the state Supreme Court, “it will be used against him in the campaign,” she said.

“It's a political calculation, and it's the correct calculation,” said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia media consultant with Democratic ties. “The people outraged about voter ID will still be outraged. But it lowers the temperature. It undercuts the intensity of the opposition.”

Corbett aides said he decided against an appeal not for political reasons, but based on court statements and rulings.

“Based upon the court's opinion, it is clear that the requirement of photo identification is constitutionally permissible,” Corbett said. “However, the court also made clear that in order for a voter identification law to be found constitutional, changes must be made to address accessibility to photo identifications.”

Corbett defended the law — which was considered one of the strictest in the nation — requiring voters to show photo ID from various sources when they arrive at polls. A Commonwealth Court judge declared it unconstitutional in January.

“The law was extreme and about as strict as you can get,” Cigler said.

In previous court battles, the law was enjoined, and voters were not required to show ID.

“The governor made the right decision,” said Stephen Miskin, a House Republican spokesman. “It's time to move on from what has become a divisive debate and work together on a secure and available electoral process.

“One option to strengthen confidence in our voting system would be to provide Pennsylvanians the option of registering to vote online, which has been proven to improve voter data accuracy and reduce the potential for fraud,” Miskin said.

Voter ID likely isn't a priority for lawmakers, who are dealing with pension reform, property tax shifting, teen suicide prevention and liquor privatization, Miskin said. Legislators also are grappling with a potential $1.2 billion deficit in the state budget due by June 30.

A top Senate Republican aide agreed it's unlikely lawmakers will address voter ID through the end of the 2013-14 session.

Republicans and Corbett pushed the voter ID bill, which all Democrats opposed.

But Ceisler said it was always his impression that GOP legislators in the House, but not Corbett, were driving the issue.

Democrats were exuberant with the decision not to appeal.

“The right to vote is a basic right guaranteed in the Pennsylvania Constitution,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. “Two years ago, the governor and his Republican leadership attempted to make it much harder for people to exercise this right, but the state courts acted decisively and repeatedly to protect the basic right to vote.

“After spending millions of dollars on a confusing and expensive ad campaign, and to defend the law in court, the governor finally opened his eyes and saw the light,” Dermody said.

The aim of the law was voter integrity, Republicans said. In court, GOP lawyers acknowledged they did not find instances of in-person voter fraud.

Critics of voter ID contended it put an unfair burden on many poor and minority voters.

“We are pleased that Gov. Corbett has ‎decided not to continue the state's pursuit to institute a photo ID law that has been proven to discriminate against hundreds of thousands of voters,” said Jotaka Eaddy, director of the NAACP Voting Rights Initiative.

“We commend the governor for not continuing to push a dangerous and unnecessary law that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or The Associated Press contributed.

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