State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Déjà vu all over again for voter ID

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 24, 2012 10:30 PM

Thumbnail image for Pennsylvania Judicial Center Harrisburg Pennsylvania’s voter ID law is heading back to the same Commonwealth Court judge who refused to block it last month.

Judge Robert Simpson will consider new information to help answer the question of whether or not the photo identification requirement at the polls is being implemented well enough that no voters will be denied their right to cast ballots.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the lower court judge to block the law unless he can be certain of two things: that newly-created Department of State voting IDs are available to all, and that the cards’ availability means “no voter disenfranchisement” due to the photo ID requirement.

If it sounds tricky, said law professor Bruce Ledewitz, of Duquesne University School of Law, that’s because it is.

“It is an impossible task,” Ledewitz said. Legal challengers to voter ID say the state Supreme Court’s ruling shifts the burden of proof from those challenging the law to the attorneys defending it. The same high court order made it clear all further appeals from this point would be handled on an expedited basis.

“In other words,” said Ledewitz, “the trial judge… has been told: ‘If you can’t make certain hearings, certain findings enjoining the statute, and in any event, if you don’t, we’ll hear the case again, very fast.’ So I think of this case as a done deal.”

To the contrary, argue attorneys for the commonwealth in their pre-hearing brief. They write the judge must only confirm his earlier opinion that voter ID won’t disenfranchise a “substantial” number of voters. The commonwealth also accuses its legal challengers of being too quick to cry “disenfranchisement” when referring to the creation of an “extra step” to vote that not all voters may take.

Judge Simpson has until October 2 to submit his second ruling in the case.

Ledewitz said he’s not even sure the commonwealth would appeal a decision to block the voter ID law.

“Because Judge Simpson might very well say, in his order, ‘you have not satisfied the Supreme Court’s standard,’” said Ledewitz, “and it’s pretty clear that his hands would be tied, at that point.”

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