A Commonwealth Court judge ruled Tuesday that the state must put its new voter identification requirement on hold until after the November election, but the judge also told the state to continue advertising the law — an order that opponents say will cause confusion in the general election.
Since September, the Pennsylvania Department of State has been airing advertisements on TV and radio to let people know about the state’s new voter ID law and Judge Robert Simpson wants the state to continue its "outreach and education efforts" to edify voters on the law’s particulars.
That puts the state government in a tricky position. It has put thousands of dollars into crafting these ads.
“The wording of the advertising is something we are looking at, and we do hope to address that very soon, so that we’re not saying something that in fact is not the case, but yet, complying with the judge’s direction to continue the outreach, and encouraging people to get an ID,” said Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.
It’s still possible the state government could appeal the Commonwealth Court decision, in order to reinstate the voter ID law for the November 6 election. If that were to happen, the current ads would still make sense. The state Supreme Court has already set aside a courtroom in Pittsburgh on October 17 to hear any appeals.
But who will appeal? Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU said his group isn’t entirely pleased with the Commonwealth Court decision either.
“It’s also possible we might appeal, to the extent the Commonwealth continues with advertising that at this point we view as misleading or false, telling people they need ID on election day," said Walczak. "We may file an appeal on that issue.”
Speaking for the state, Ruman said the judge’s decision on advertising makes sense because the state thinks the voter ID law will be in effect for all future elections. On top of that, he said poll workers are still going to ask voters for photo ID for the presidential election this year, even though the law has been put on hold. Ruman called it a “rehearsal.”
“It will be like the primary was," said Ruman. "They will not be required to have that ID to vote, but they will be asked for it.”
The Saga Continues
The voter ID measure was controversial even before it was passed by Republicans in the legislature this March. GOP Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill into law nine months before the presidential election.
Since the Commonwealth Court decision doesn’t strike down the voter ID law, the ACLU’s Vic Walczak said his group might continue its lawsuit this winter. The ACLU is arguing the law violates the state constitution because it could disenfranchise certain populations.
For example, Walczak said the state doesn’t have a plan to get voter IDs to institutionalized seniors.
“They have a polling place in the building, so they can get to that, but they can’t get to the DMV. How is the Commonwealth going to deal with those individuals? Unless they come up with a solution for that particular problem, and that’s a pretty sizeable demographic, we’ll continue to argue that this law is unconstitutional,” said Walczak.
However, the Department of State’s Ron Ruman said the law is on solid footing, constitutionally speaking.
“It was modeled on Indiana’s law, which was upheld by the US Supreme Court," said Ruman. "Once all the legal decisions are made, it is our belief that the law will be in effect, and voter photo ID will be a requirement here in Pennsylvania.”
Whether or not there’s another court battle over the voter ID law before the presidential election, it seems as though the legal war is far from over.
Ron Ruman and Vic Walczak appeared as guests on 90.5 WESA's Essential Pittsburgh Tuesday October 2, 2012.