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Pennsylvania Judge Urged by ACLU to Bar Voter ID Law

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The Pennsylvania judge who last month upheld a law requiring voters to have photo identification was urged by the American Civil Liberties Union to bar enforcement of the statute without further review.

The state Supreme Court this week returned the case to Commonwealth Judge Richard E. Simpson, ordering a further assessment of whether all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. Simpson ruled Aug. 15 after a trial that plaintiffs including the ACLU didn’t prove the law would disenfranchise voters.

“The Supreme Court has set a high standard for avoiding a preliminary injunction that respondents have no possibility of meeting,” the ACLU and advocacy groups said in a filing yesterday in state court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

A majority of the state Supreme Court said Sept. 18 that the state wasn’t living up to the law’s requirement that it provide “liberal access” to alternate forms of ID. The four-justice majority asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2 and to block enforcement of the law if there is a chance of voter disenfranchisement.

Simpson has scheduled additional arguments for Sept. 25.

‘Predictive Judgment’

The Pennsylvania case is among multiple court battles over voting rules, particularly in swing states, including Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, where Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns see the possibility of victory.

Voter cases are also under way in Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Lawsuits filed over Florida voting rules include at least two challenging a law ostensibly designed to purge noncitizens from voter lists, which opponents say would disenfranchise new citizens as well.

A federal judge last month blocked enforcement of a new Florida law restricting voter-registration activities. A different federal judge in Florida on Sept. 19 heard arguments challenging the state’s 2011 law cutting back early voting days as biased against blacks.

Texas officials on Sept 19 were temporarily barred by a state judge from ordering county election officials to purge presumably dead voters from registration rolls because the initiative may violate the election code.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by four voters who were told they would be purged from voter-registration lists as deceased. They asked state court Judge Tim Sulak in Austin to stop the state from striking about 77,000 names, arguing the plan violates state and federal law.

Democratic Voters

Enacted in March, the Pennsylvania law requires voters to present a state-issued ID, or an acceptable alternative such as a military ID, to cast a ballot. Opponents of the law said probable Democratic voters, such as the elderly and the poor, are those least likely to have a valid ID by election day. The Pennsylvania Department of State on Aug. 27 began offering new ID cards on last month as a last resort for those unable to obtain a valid substitute.

The state has issued only 9 percent of the minimum number of IDs it estimates are needed, the ACLU said this week. Simpson should issue a preliminary injunction even if state officials assure the court that the procedures put in place since last month will be “liberalized,” the ACLU said.

“The Supreme Court was not satisfied that ‘a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials’ would be enough to avoid the entry of a preliminary injunction,” the ACLU said.

The case is Applewhite v. The 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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