HARRISBURG, Pa. – A tough new voter identification law championed by Republicans can take effect in Pennsylvania for November’s presidential election, a judge ruled Wednesday, despite a torrent of criticism that it will suppress votes among President Obama’s supporters and make it harder for the elderly, disabled, poor and young adults to vote.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said he would not grant an injunction that would have halted the law, which requires each voter to show a valid photo ID. Opponents are expected to file an appeal within a day or two to the state Supreme Court as the Nov. 6 election looms.
We’re not done, it’s not over, said Witold J. Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who helped argue the case for the plaintiffs. It’s why they make appeals courts.
The Republican-penned law – which passed over the objections of Democrats – has ignited a furious debate over voting rights as Pennsylvania is poised to play a key role in deciding the presidential contest. Plaintiffs, including a 93-year-old woman who recalled marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960, had asked Simpson during a six-day hearing earlier this summer to block the law from taking effect in this year’s election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.
Republicans, who defend the law as necessary to protect the integrity of the election, praised Simpson’s decision, while it was savaged by Democrats who say the law will make it harder for hundreds of thousands people who lack ID for valid reasons to vote.
Opponents portray the law as a partisan scheme to help the Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, beat Obama. Their passionate objections were inflamed in June when the state’s Republican House leader boasted to a party gathering that the new photo ID requirement is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state.
Simpson, a Republican, didn’t rule on the full merits of the case, only whether to grant a preliminary injunction stopping it from taking effect.
He rejected claims that the law is unconstitutional and ruled that the challenge did not meet the stiff requirements to win an injunction.
Lawyers from the attorney general’s office, which defended the law, pointed out that the state is planning to begin issuing a special photo ID card for registered voters who are unable to get a PennDOT-issued ID and lack other acceptable photo IDs, such as passports or active-duty military IDs. The state also is rolling out a public relations campaign to make people aware of the law.