Pennsylvania Supreme Court moves voter-ID appeal up on its schedule

Posted: August 25, 2012

The state Supreme Court agreed Thursday to expedite its handling of a challenge to Pennsylvania's new voter identification law, scheduling arguments for Sept. 13 in its courtroom in City Hall.

That means the six justices now sitting on the state's highest court will hear from lawyers on both sides of the widely watched case just 54 days before the presidential election.

An assortment of individuals and organizations is appealing an Aug. 15 ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr., who found that the new law is a reasonable exercise of the legislature's authority over the conduct of Pennsylvania elections.

The law requires voters to show a required form of photo ID - either a Pennsylvania driver's license or another specified alternative - when they show up at their polling places on Nov. 6.

People without the required ID will be allowed to fill out a provisional ballot that will be held aside until after the election, giving voters six days to convince county election boards of their identities.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups appealing Simpson's decision contend the law will effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters who lack driver's licenses and may have difficulty getting to Department of Transportation licensing centers to arrange for alternative ID.

The challengers had asked the Supreme Court to take up their appeal as soon as possible, to resolve the voter ID controversy well in advance of the election.

But state Attorney General Linda L. Kelly filed a response this week suggesting that the court should provide more time for briefs and delay argument until its October session, in Pittsburgh.

The Supreme Court gave no explanation for its scheduling decision but granted the motion for expedited handling and put the case first on its agenda for Sept. 13.

The challengers' briefs, outlining their arguments to overturn Simpson's decision, are due Thursday, and the state will have eight days to respond.

Besides driver's licenses, the law says the following forms of photo ID are acceptable: nondriver photo ID, also available from the Transportation Department; a valid U. S. passport; current local, state or federal government employee ID, with specified expiration dates; current military ID; current student identification, with a specified expiration date, from an accredited Pennsylvania college or university; or photo ID, with an expiration date, from a licensed care facility.

The week before Simpson opened hearings in Commonwealth Court, the state announced it would also make a new form of voter-only ID available through PennDot driver licensing centers, beginning next week.

To get the new voter-only ID, voters have to provide dates of birth and Social Security numbers, along with two proofs of current residence, such as utility bills or tax returns. People without such proof, such as those living with relatives, or in a halfway house or other institution, may have to bring other adults with them to PennDot to vouch for their residences.

More information about the new law is available from the Pennsylvania Department of State, at 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) during weekday business hours, or online at www.votespa.com. The Voter ID Coalition, an amalgam of civic organizations, can provide additional advice and assistance, including transportation, at telephone 1-866-OUR-VOTE. Detailed advice is available on the Committee of Seventy website, www.seventy.org.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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