Pennsylvania Judge Rules Poll Workers Can Still Ask For ID

October 2, 2012 6:35 a.m.
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Updated: 12:05PM

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday issued a ruling on the state’s voting law that will allow poll workers to ask for photo identification but will still allow voters to cast a ballot without subsequently having to show an ID.

The ruling strikes down two provisions of the law that would have required voters to without identification to show their IDs within six days of voting or appear before the county board of elections. The state will also still be allowed to educate voters about the new identification requirement.The preliminary injunction by Judge Robert Simpson only applies to the election this November. Simpson said he would schedule a trial on the merits of the law at a future date.

While celebrating the partial victory, civil rights groups are still worried that having the state ask for photo identification could create chaos at the polls unless Pennsylvania properly educates poll workers. The NAACP announced it would “work to ensure that poll workers do not wrongly enforce the law, and that all counties are monitored on Election Day.”

Civil rights groups also worry that voters who believe they need to show photo ID will simply stay alway from the polls. Plaintiffs in the case had argued that asking for identification was a form of disenfranchisement, an argument Simpson specifically rejected.

“I hate to say it, but it’s a potential issue. There’s a lot of confusion this election cycle,” Katherine Culliton-González of the Advancement Project told TPM.

“This has been in the news. People have been told they need ID. They’ve heard all sorts of arguments like ‘only irresponsible people wouldn’t have ID,'” she said. “We want every voter in Pennsylvania to know they can vote without an ID.”

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center called the ruling a “significant” but “not perfect victory” and said she worried confused voters could be disenfranchised.

“A skeptic might say that the only reason to ask [for ID] is with the expectation that many people wouldn’t understand that it’s just practice and people will be turned away,” Weiser told TPM. “I certainly hope that isn’t what happens, but there’s certainly a concern.”

Simpson previously refused to block the voter ID law despite his “sympathy” for those “burdened by the voter ID requirement.” But Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court overturned that ruling and ordered Simpson to issue an injunction blocking the law from going into effect unless the state could prove it was providing “liberal access” to photo identification and that there would “be no voter disenfranchisement” on Election Day.

While the state claimed it adjusted their policies to make it easier for voters to obtain photo identification, voters have still run into problems at the state’s Department of Transportation offices.

Pennsylvania passed the voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the nation, earlier this year without any Democratic votes. The state admitted that thousands of voters didn’t have a valid form of state-issued identification that would be allowed under the law. Before the trial, the state admitted it had no evidence of in-person voter fraud, the type of fraud that voter ID laws would prevent.

The Justice Department also launched an investigation into whether the law violates the Voting Rights Act, a probe that has been stonewalled by the state.

Correction: This post has been updated to show that voters who don’t have voter ID will still be allowed to cast a regular ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

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