by Colleen Flaherty
A Pennsylvania judge ruled today that the controversial voter ID law passed earlier this year will not be enforced in the November elections, saying there was not enough time to ensure that qualified voters could obtain IDs.
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Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said that while election officials can still ask for a photo ID, they are not able to turn away voters who have not been able to obtain one. Simpson wrote, “An otherwise qualified elector who does not provide proof of identification may cast a ballot that shall be counted without the necessity of casting a provisional ballot.”
Simpson characterized his decision as extending a “soft run” of the new law. “I am still not convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement.”
Mike Crossey, longtime educator and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents approximately 187,000 members, issued the following statement regarding the decision:
“There shouldn’t be roadblocks erected in front of Pennsylvania’s voting booths. Today, the Commonwealth Court tore one down, ensuring that Pennsylvanians can exercise their right to vote on November 6.
“Today’s decision ensures that the rights of Pennsylvanians to cast ballots on Election Day will not be eroded, infringed or violated. Pennsylvanians should be proud of this decision and the principles that it upholds.”
Chanel Blow, a Pennsylvania educator and voter rights activist, said she was “elated and thankful” to hear the news, but concerned that the ruling may cause confusion at the polls. “If people aren’t forthcoming about the law, it may pose a challenge. The work isn’t done yet, but I think it’s still a step in the right direction,” said Blow.
“This is an opportunity to teach people our rights as individuals and citizens. We need to keep moving, keep everybody educated and let everybody know their rights,” added Blow, who honed her activism skills at a voter protection training hosted by NEA and NAACP this summer.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported more than 9.2 percent of the state’s voters lack a state-issued ID, and the figure is closer to 18 percent in urban areas.
A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law concluded that more than 135,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania without a vehicle live more than ten miles from the nearest state office that issues an approved ID.
“The result is plain: Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote. They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen,” said the Brennan Center assessment.