Pennsylvania Judge Bars Voter-ID Law for Next Election

A Pennsylvania judge approved an agreement between the state and advocacy groups barring enforcement of a voter-identification law through the November election.

The ban will last until the court renders a final verdict in a lawsuit over the statute, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley ruled today. The state, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups reached an agreement on enforcement at the conclusion of a non-jury trial on Aug. 1. McGinley approved the accord today while rejecting a request to ban poll workers from asking for identification even if it isn’t yet required to cast a ballot.

“This will allow the parties and this court to address the permanent injunction without distraction or distress from impending elections,” McGinley said in his ruling.

The ACLU and other groups are challenging the Republican-backed measure requiring a driver’s license or state-issued ID to cast a ballot. Opponents of the legislation, enacted in March 2012 by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, claim its intent is to suppress votes of lower-income people and the elderly who may be more inclined to vote Democratic. Supporters contend the law is needed to prevent voter fraud.

As many as 710,000 people might be barred from voting under the statute, according to the ACLU. State officials estimated that number at about 2,500.

10 States

Pennsylvania’s law is similar to measures passed in Republican-controlled states. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that passed bills requiring voters to show state-issued IDs before casting valid ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Eighteen states passed laws requiring or requesting voters to present some kind of photo ID. Only two states had adopted voter-ID laws before 2008.

Poll workers in Pennsylvania, while now able to ask for ID, won’t be allowed to tell voters that identification is required at future elections, McGinley said.

“We will not have to keep going back to court after every election to get an extension of the injunction,” Jennifer Clarke, an attorney for the plaintiffs and executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said in an e-mail. “And it prevents the very real possibility of confusion by modifying what poll workers have to tell voters at the polls.”

The case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330-MD-2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

To contact the reporter on this story: Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at spearson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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