Pennsylvania agreed to let a court order barring enforcement of the state’s voter-identification law continue through the November elections.
The agreement, reached as a nonjury trial over the law concluded, means Pennsylvanians will be able to cast ballots without presenting photo IDs. The extension needs court approval. The judge didn’t say when a final decision on the case will be announced, and the loser will probably appeal, lawyers have said. The trial started July 15.
“We all have the right to choose our leaders,” Jennifer Clarke, an attorney for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said today in closing arguments.
The center, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups are asking the court to overturn the voter-ID legislation, arguing that it unconstitutionally disenfranchises the poor and elderly.
Alicia Hickok, an attorney for the state, argued that the law protects the integrity of elections and doesn’t equal disenfranchisement. She noted that most individual plaintiffs in the ACLU’s case received valid forms of ID in time to vote in the past two elections.
“The statute is only to be found unconstitutional if it clearly violates the Constitution,” Hickok said. “You cannot assume that the General Assembly intends to violate the constitution.”
The law hasn’t been enforced since it was enacted in March 2012. State officials were barred from enforcing it in the November 2012 and May elections.
Backed by Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, the ID law followed similar measures passed in Republican-controlled states, leading opponents to claim the intent is to suppress the votes of lower-income people and the elderly, who may be more inclined to vote for Democrats. Supporters say the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud.
Pennsylvania’s law requires a driver’s license, state-issued ID or acceptable alternative such as a military ID to cast a ballot. IDs must have an expiration date, which eliminates common forms of photo identification such as veterans, state employee and student IDs, the ACLU said.
Pennsylvania and the plaintiffs are at odds over the number of people lacking appropriate ID in the state. The ACLU argued it may be as many as 710,000.
State officials countered that about 2,500 people applied for a Pennsylvania Department of State ID, a last resort for those who lack government-issued identification or wouldn’t qualify for it.
Judge Bernard McGinley will rule on barring the law’s enforcement for the next election after lawyers submit written arguments on Aug. 5. A ruling on a permanent injunction will be made by full Commonwealth Court, Clarke said.
The case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330-md-2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).
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