PA Court Blocks Enforcement of Voter ID Laws

On Tuesday, just five weeks before Election Day, a Commonwealth Court judge halted enforcement of Pennsylvania’s strict new voting ID law from going into effect in the pivotal swing state until after this year’s presidential election. The law, enacted in March, requires that every person have a Department of Transportation (PennDOT) photo ID in order to vote in Pennsylvania. However, under the law, the state of Pennsylvania is supposed to provide alternative voter ID cards free of charge. In September, the State’s Supreme Court returned the case to the lower Commonwealth Court to assess the extent that approved voter ID’s are readily available to eligible voters.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ordered the state not to enforce the law for the November 6 election, stating “the proposed changes are to occur about five weeks before the general election, and I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access” to ID cards. The higher court ordered Simpson to block the law if eligible voters would be kept from voting as a result of it, or if he found that the state could not comply with its commitment to provide valid photo IDs to eligible voters within the time available before election day- he did not question the constitutionality of the law. Simpson’s decision will allow the law to go into effect in the future. An appeal of the decision is still possible.

Although the future of the law remains contested, the judge’s decision to block the law for the November 6 election is a win for Democrats, who have been fighting Republican-passed voter ID laws in many states this year. According to the Associated Press, “Pennsylvania’s new law, among the toughest in the nation, is a signature accomplishment of Republicans in control of Pennsylvania state government who say they fear election fraud. But it is an emotional target for Democrats who call it a Jim Crow-style scheme to make it harder for their party’s traditional voters, including young adults and minorities, who might not carry the right kind of ID or know about the law.”

A study released in September by the Black Youth Project indicated that one million young minority voters were at risk of being affected by new voter suppression laws enacted in 17 states for the November 6 election.

Media Resources: NBC Politics 10/2/12; Huffington Post 10/2/12; MSNBC 10/2/12; NPR 10/2/12

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