Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson today blocked enforcement of some but not all of Pennsylvania's voter identification law, issuing an injunction allowing state officials to continue a public education campaign while allowing people without IDs a way to cast a ballot in November.
Democracy program director Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law -- a home to nonpartisan research of voting rights issues:
"Today's decision is a clear victory for Pennsylvania voters and the cause of voting rights across the country. As the Commonwealth Court ruled, implementing a sweeping new voter ID law so close to an election would prevent eligible citizens from voting and having their say in our democracy. We are pleased the Court refused to allow politicians to manipulate the system for their own benefit by rushing through new voting requirements that would keep out legitimate voters. Now, we must ensure voters are informed of their rights and poll workers are trained properly so no voter is turned away because they don't have ID. As the leading democracy in the world, our voting system should be free, fair, and accessible to all Americans. Today's ruling will help ensure it fulfills that promise."
From a written statement issued by Gov. Tom Corbett:
"We are pleased with Judge Simpson's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the voter ID law. While we believe we have made it possible for every registered voter who needs voter identification to obtain one, we'll continue our efforts for the next election and all future elections, to make sure every registered voter has the proper identification in an effort to preserve the integrity of our voting process in Pennsylvania."
Later, he told reporters during a press conference he has not decided if the state will appeal the ruling, but he implied it might not. He said the ruling was consistent with the state's suggestion to the court that a "soft roll-out" continue at the November election:
"As it comes to a preliminary injunction, no final decision has been made, but you can see where we're probably leaning," he said.
His spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor was referring to a decision not to appeal.
Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason issued a written statement:
"I am disappointed by today's ruling to postpone the full implementation of a commonsense reform that helps protect the sanctity of our electoral process. We shouldn't have to wait for this commonsense reform to be enacted. With that being said, Voter ID is still Pennsylvania law, was found to be constitutional and we will work to encourage voters to bring their photo identification with them to the polls.
"Poll after poll has shown that Pennsylvanians from both political parties overwhelmingly support Voter ID legislation because, despite the empty rhetoric to the contrary, this legislation is still about ensuring one person, one vote. Our Party remains committed to the citizens of the Commonwealth and we will do all that we can to ensure free and fair elections."
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, issued a written statement:
"Today's decision by the Commonwealth Court upholds Act 18, and voter identification, and that is good.
"Voter Identification is about ensuring the integrity of our elections and preserving the principle of the 'One person, One vote' doctrine.
"When votes are diluted through fraud, the system starts to break down. Voter identification has always been about creating a level playing field where every Pennsylvanian's vote represents an equal opportunity to have a voice in government.
"The fact is, the election integrity provisions that have passed the House have been to preserve the right of every citizen who is entitled to vote to be able to vote, and every citizen who votes should be sure that his or her vote has not been diluted by somebody else's fraud."
A written statement from Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn.
"Today is a significant victory in the fight to make sure everyone has the right to vote in November, but the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is remaining vigilant to ensure that voters are educated about the voting process and they are protected when they cast their vote."
In an interview with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the ruling was good news because it meant votes would count with or without photo identification. But he noted the court had declined to stop the state campaign advertising the law.
"What raises concerns is whether your average voter is going to understand what's really going on here," he said. "If they continue to run that without telling people there is no longer an ID requirement, is that going to discourage people who don't have ID from going to the polls?"
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele said the following in a statement issued jointly with Mr. Corbett:
"The streamlined process put in place by the Corbett Administration to help all voters get IDs would have allowed all voters to have acceptable ID by November. However, the judge has concerns about this, and thus the same procedure will be in effect for this election as for the spring primary, in that voters will be requested to show ID, but ID will not be required to vote.
"We will continue our education and outreach efforts, as directed by the judge in his order, to let Pennsylvanians know the voter ID law is still on track to be fully implemented for future elections, and we urge all registered voters to make sure they have acceptable ID.
"This law is designed to preserve the integrity of every vote by doing what we can to make sure each voter is who they claim to be at the polls, and we are confident this law will be fully implemented in future elections."
Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, in a brief written statement:
"The court order ensures that no citizen will be deprived of the constitutional right to vote as a result of the voter suppression law pushed through by Governor Corbett and Republican legislators," Dermody said, "at least not this year."
Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Cranberry Republican, said in a written statement:
"Although I am pleased that a full injunction was not granted and that Pennsylvania will at least have some voter photo identification requirement and new absentee ballot provisions in place this November, Justice Simpson's final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID.
".... Rather than using today's ruling as an opportunity to increase both voter integrity and accountability by requiring every Pennsylvania voter to prove they are who they say they are by presenting a valid photo ID before casting a vote, as Constitutionally upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Simpson and the Corbett administration have chosen to openly enable and fully embrace the ever-increasing entitlement mentality of those individuals who have no problem living off the fruits of their neighbors' labor. Although ensuring a fair and fraud-free election process is a fundamental responsibility of government, both the executive branch and judicial branch are failing the people by overstepping the boundaries of their constitutional authority."
In a written statement from the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., adjunct fellow Horace Cooper said Judge Simpson contradicted himself in his ruling today.
"Today's ruling is a temporary setback for Voter ID. Notably the Court's ruling accepts the principle that the voter ID rules are legal. Unfortunately the timing of the change meant that Pennsylvanians will have to wait one more election cycle before they can be sure their elections are fraud-free."
A written statement from Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner:
"The decision to delay Pennsylvania's Voter ID law is a victory for democracy and fair elections, albeit a temporary one. It is clear that this law could not have been implemented in the few short weeks before a high-turnout election without chaos at the polls and qualified voters being turned away.
"However, we must begin working now to ensure that every voter is prepared for future elections. In addition, the Commonwealth must provide funding to the counties, which are responsible for the nuts and bolts of our elections. Allegheny County alone has more than 1,300 polling places and more than 7,000 Election Day workers. The ID law should not be another unfunded mandate on our County, which has already incurred costs due to the uncertainty surrounding the law.
"Despite the ruling, there is little doubt that the ID law could still have a chilling effect on some voters. Disenfranchisement cannot be allowed to occur in Pennsylvania -- the birthplace of our democracy. Every elected official regardless of party should now rededicate themselves to increasing voter participation, not limiting it."
A Pennsylvania-based Obama campaign spokeswoman, Desiree Peterkin-Bell, said in a written statement:
"Today's decision means one thing for Pennsylvanians: eligible voters can vote on Election Day, just like they have in previous elections in the state.
"The right to vote and choose our leaders is at the heart of what it means to be an American. The President and his campaign are committed to making sure that every eligible voter, regardless of party, has the ability to make their voices heard and participate in the electoral process.