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Pennsylvania loosens ID rules as judge considers voter law

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Election workers learn about acceptable forms of identification during a meeting to discuss Pennsylvania's voter-identification law at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on September 25, 2012.

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Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, 1:39 p.m.

HARRISBURG — A Commonwealth Court judge on Tuesday said he may issue an injunction in the case challenging the state's voter ID law, telling lawyers for both sides to prepare arguments on what type of an injunction he should issue.

Attorneys for opponents of the law, which requires voters to show photo ID at polling places, want Judge Robert Simpson to block its use in the Nov. 6 election. Lawyers for the state contend that relaxed procedures for getting identification, which took effect on Tuesday, should be the only limitations he places on the law.

“Ultimately, there's a possibility I'll enter the injunction,” Simpson, a Republican, said. When the hearing resumes on Thursday, “I'll ask ... what should an injunction look like.”

In August, Simpson upheld the law. The state Supreme Court sent it back to him, saying he must issue a preliminary injunction if state officials do not convince him they did everything possible to avoid voter disenfranchisement.

Top-level state officials testified they've taken steps to educate voters and to make it easier for people to obtain ID cards. More than 10,000 Pennsylvanians have done so since March, officials said.

Under the law, people can use a driver's license, military ID, college ID, or identification issued by nursing homes.

A poll released on Wednesday by Franklin & Marshall College found 99 percent of respondents had IDs suitable for use when voting.

Fifty-nine percent said they support the law, compared with 39 percent who do not. Even if inadequate IDs kept eligible voters from casting ballots, 75 percent said they still support the law.

Opponents, who include the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that hundreds of thousands of voters would not have proper identification to vote. They believe the law would mostly restrict minorities and low-income and elderly Pennsylvanians.

“The data doesn't support that there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people without ID,” testified Kurt Myers, a deputy PennDOT secretary.

On the eve of the hearing, the Department of State implemented a policy to make it easier to get an ID card. A voter who lacks paperwork to obtain a non-driver ID from PennDOT can get such a card from the Department of State without two documents proving residence, which was previously a requirement.

“They're walking it back,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, an opponent.

The Republican-controlled legislature, supported by Gov. Tom Corbett, approved the law in March with a goal of bringing integrity to the voting process. Yet opponents say no one can cite a single documented case of in-person voter fraud.

The law allows people to cast provisional ballots and later validate their identification.

Simpson must rule by Oct. 2 but said he intends to do so sooner.

“I am not of a mind to wait until the very last minute,” the judge told a packed courtroom. “The sooner the better, for all involved.”

Alfred Putnam, an attorney for the state-retained firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath, said the more liberal voter ID verification is in line with the Supreme Court's order. “We think we are complying with what the Supreme Court says the law is,” he said.

David Gersh, a lawyer for Arnold & Porter, leading the case for opponents, said the state actions taken Tuesday “are too late, and it's very different from what the General Assembly had in mind.”

He said opponents want the law's implementation delayed until a full trial on its merits.

“If everyone can get photo ID, there's nothing wrong with it,” Gersh said.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or

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