ACLU to Appeal in Pennsylvania as Parties Clash on Vote Laws

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a notice that it will appeal Pennsylvania state court’s upholding of a voter photo-ID requirement.

A motion for an expedited schedule was also filed yesterday, the ACLU said. The plaintiffs who sued the state asked that oral arguments be held in the period Sept. 10 to 14, according to documents they provided. The filings couldn’t immediately be confirmed with the court.

The ACLU will seek the reversal of the Aug. 15 ruling that it failed to prove Pennsylvania voters would be disenfranchised by a demand for photo identification at the polls. Judge Robert E. Simpson in state court in Harrisburg ruled as the major parties clashed in two crucial states.

In neighboring Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted set uniform hours for in-person absentee voting in all 88 counties for the Nov. 6 presidential election after the Ohio Democratic Party said times were being expanded mostly in Republican-leaning counties.

Pennsylvania has 20 Electoral College votes, and Ohio has 18. In Ohio, which Obama won with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, no Republican has ever won the presidency while losing the state.

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states passed laws they said were necessary to prevent fraud and help elections run smoothly. Democrats said the steps are aimed at helping Republicans by limiting votes for President Barack Obama

Voter cases are also active in Texas, South Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin.

Ohio Hearing

“It’s a presidential election year, and so people tend to care more about these kinds of disputes,” said Michael Dimino, a law professor at Widener University in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Absentee voting in Ohio starts 35 days before the election. Husted directed county election offices to remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first three weeks and until 7 p.m. on weekdays in the final two.

“All Ohioans will vote by the same standards,” Husted, a first-term Republican, said at a news briefing in Columbus. All registered voters in Ohio also are being sent applications for absentee ballots they can return by mail, Husted said.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern complained that Republican election-board members were allowing extended early-voting in Republican-leaning counties but not in Democratic ones to help presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Critical Statement

Redfern issued a statement criticizing Husted for eliminating the possibility of early, in-person absentee voting on weekends. He said Republicans “have done everything they can to limit voting access.”

Husted said he spoke with county elections officials and concluded that expanded weeknight hours were sufficient, considering financial limits in many counties. The playing field is now level, said Robert T. Bennett, the Ohio Republican Party chairman, in a telephone interview.

Pennsylvania is one of nine states requiring photo IDs to vote. Its law became a test case in the voter-eligibility debate after a state analysis found as many as 9 percent of its electorate might be unable to cast a vote for president.

State officials including Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, said the law enacted in March will deter in-person voter fraud, protect the integrity of elections and ensure public confidence in the election process.

Minorities, Poor

The ACLU sued in May, saying the law unfairly burdens minorities, the elderly and the poor and might suppress voting. The Harrisburg judge disagreed on Aug. 15 in a 70-page opinion that set the stage for an appeal to the state’s highest court.

“The photo ID requirement of Act 18 is a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life,” Simpson wrote. “The commonwealth’s asserted interest in protecting public confidence in elections is a relevant and legitimate state interest sufficiently weighty to justify the burden.”

Obama, a Democrat, won Pennsylvania with 55 percent of the vote in 2008. He won by 620,478 votes there, fewer than the number who, according to plaintiffs in the suit, might be kept from the polls on Nov. 6.

Pennsylvania has 20 Electoral College votes, and Ohio has 18. In Ohio, which Obama won with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, no Republican has ever won the presidency while losing the state.

Constitutional Argument

The Obama campaign has sued over another facet of Ohio’s early-voting law, asserting that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection by giving members of the armed services and certain overseas voters three more early voting days than other Ohioans. Arguments on a court order that would block that were heard Aug. 15 in Columbus.

Ohio previously allowed everyone to vote by in-person absentee ballot until the day before the election. Laws signed by Republican Governor John Kasich created the division.

The state has a rational basis for treating military and overseas voters differently, and cutting off early voting the Friday before the election for nonmilitary citizens allows local election boards to synchronize those votes with those at 9,800 polling places to prevent double-voting, Husted said.

Obama and Democrats say no distinction between otherwise-eligible voters justifies giving more time to one group than another, and that 30 percent of the ballots cast in Ohio in 2008 were by early absentee ballots.

The Pennsylvania case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330-md-2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg). The Ohio case is Obama for America v. Husted, 12-cv-00636, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).

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