Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson had little choice but to issue a partial injunction on Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.
Michael Dimino, constitutional and election law professor at Widener University, said the directives last week from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court were tough and clear. “It didn’t give Judge Simpson much room to exercise discretion,” Dimino said. “I don’t think he had very much in the way of options. He could have found that everyone wanting an ID was getting one, but realistically there wasn’t very much for him to do other than enjoin the law from this election.” Last month, the state Supreme Court returned the case to Simpson. Simpson was directed to stop the voter ID law from taking effect in this year’s election if he found that the state had failed to meet the requirement under the law of providing easy access to a photo ID or if he believed it would prevent any registered voter from casting a ballot.
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law requires voters to show a state-approved photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. Previously, the law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time, and it allowed nonphoto documents such as utility bills or bank statements. Simpson’s ruling Tuesday indicated that the law will likely pass muster after the November election.
“He gave something of a preview that he thought the efforts to give people ID’s were moving along even though they were not moving along as quickly as he had hoped,” Dimino said. Next year, Dimino said, “The government will have an easier time demonstrating that the law is constitutional.” Still, the cornerstone issues at the center of the controversy over the law — how voter ID’s are issued and whether it engenders voter discrimination or suppression — will remain.