Today's move was expected, after the Commonwealth's surprising concession during its closing argument that it was willing to keep voter ID on hold for this year's election while the judge considered the overall merits. However, the judge has modified the "soft rollout" of the law. Voters will still be asked if they have a valid photo ID, and then be told it's not necessary this time before voting*, but unlike the past three elections the judge has forbidden election officials from warning November's voters that next time, photo ID would be required. The past practice of giving such warnings, wrote Judge McGinley, has proven "erroneous at best, deceptive at worst."
[* As under pre-existing law, first-time Pennsylvania voters at a particular polling place must show some form of ID, but it's a longer list of acceptable forms of identification which includes many non-photo IDs as well.]
Pennsylvania's law is among the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, between the narrow categories of IDs allowed, the difficulty of obtaining a valid free form of identification, and the for-cause-only nature of our absentee voting laws. For more on that, and what comes next, join me past the gnocchi, but first, join Daily Kos by urging Congress to save the Voting Rights Act by creating a new preclearance formula.:
The trial has demonstrated such difficulties, as in this July 23 testimony from Patricia Norton:
Under examination by Law Center attorney Ben Geffen, Mrs. Norton explained that she is a great-grandmother and a lifelong resident of Berks County. She has lived in the same house in Womelsdorf for 48 years, and has voted for that entire period at the Borough Hall at the end of her block. She can get to Borough Hall to vote in person and is thus ineligible to cast an absentee ballot.No matter who wins before the Commonwealth Court, there will be an appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which since the last time it ruled now has a full complement of jurists, four Republicans and three Democrats. Presumably, there will be a final ruling on the merits in time for next November's election, featuring a governor's race, Congress, half the state Senate and the entire state House.
Mrs. Norton has had serious health problems since the late 1990s and very rarely travels beyond her immediate neighborhood. She has not renewed her driver’s license since the late 1990s, because she no longer can drive and has been able to use her expired driver’s license as an ID for everyday purposes. After the Voter ID law was enacted, however, Mrs. Norton began trying to get a new photo ID. The nearest PennDOT Driver License Center is a 45-minute drive away. Mrs. Norton has no family members in the area who were available to drive her there, so she requested a ride from friends in Reading, some 30 minutes away. Shortly before the November 2012 election, her friends drove to Womelsdorf, helped her into their car, drove her to PennDOT, and helped her out of the car and into the building.
Although PennDOT is supposed to provide non-driver photo IDs free of charge to people who need them for voting purposes, PennDOT personnel told Mrs. Norton that she would have to pay $13.50 for an ID. Mrs. Norton offered $13.50 in cash, but was told that she would have to pay by check or money order. To buy a money order, Mrs. Norton would have to get back in her friends’ car, ride to another location, and repeat the trip back to PennDOT. She lacked the physical stamina for such a trip and reluctantly went home empty-handed. Since then, she has been unable to return to PennDOT, as her health has worsened and as it is difficult for her to impose repeatedly on her friends for long rides.
If the Voter ID law takes full effect, Mrs. Norton will be disenfranchised. She will still be able to travel to the polling place down the street that she has frequented for 48 years, but she will be forbidden to cast a ballot, because PennDOT has made it too difficult for her to obtain a photo ID. Click here to watch Mrs. Norton’s video testimony.
If you'd like to know more and have some free time (you can just leave the audio on in the background—I don't provide much in the way of visuals), last week I appeared on Pennsylvania Cable News for an hour-long roundtable on the topic, with Ron Ruman with the Department of State, Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project, and Chris Nicholas with the Pennsylvania Business Council.