Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Judge Robert Simpson, hearing testimony for a second time in the state’s voter ID case, asked lawyers at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings to be ready to suggest what kind of injunction would be appropriate.
“I’m giving you a heads up,” said Simpson, before adjourning until Thursday. “I think it’s possible there could be an injunction here.”
Lawyers defending voter ID say an injunction is unnecessary. Alfred Putnam, with the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, discouraged taking the judge’s words as a judicial forecast.
“I think he won’t necessarily… issue an injunction,” said Putnam. He pointed to newly revamped rules regarding the state’s alternative voting ID card, made available in late August.
The card was created by the Department of State to be a “safety net” – an ID of last resort for people unable to get a PennDOT license to show at the polls in November. As of Tuesday morning, the ID is a card of first resort. Applicants no longer have to certify, under penalty of law, that they already tried and failed to get a PennDOT license. Previous requirements that applicants show proofs of residence and specify their gender were also erased. To get the new and improved “DOS ID,” in government parlance, applicants must only supply their name, birthdate, Social Security number, and address.
Putnam and the state’s attorneys argue the new rules neutralize concerns from the Supreme Court that the photo IDs valid for voting aren’t available to everyone.
One of the lawyers challenging voter ID, David Gersch, with the law firm Arnold & Porter, said it’s not clear the rules will make the DOS IDs available to all.
“This is a completely new system that hasn’t been rolled out yet,” he said. “It certainly is a step in the right direction. If they can get everyone photo ID, then that will be OK.” But only in the long term, said Gersch. He said his colleagues will still argue that voter ID not be enforced until a full trial is held on the merits of the law. New rules, however they may ease the process of getting ID, are too little, too late.
“The General Assembly never intended that people be given five weeks to get ID,” said Gersch. “They intended that you get seven and a half months, from March 14th.”
When the state Supreme Court sent the voter ID case back to Commonwealth Court, they ordered the lower court judge would be “obliged” to block voter ID unless he was satisfied that the state’s alternative voting ID card is widely available, and that there would be no disenfranchisement in November.
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