Pennsylvania Eases Voter-ID Requirements, As Trial Judge Reviews State’s Law

In a last-minute effort to protect the restrictive voter ID law now under review by a trial judge, Pennsylvania officials announced Tuesday they would relax requirements for obtaining a photo ID.

While the law had initially required two documents with proof of residency to obtain a state-issued voting-only ID, individuals will now only need to provide their name, date of birth, social security number and address.

Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele said she believed the change would meet the standard set by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the trial judge last week due to concern that the state’s implementation of the law could lead to widespread voter suppression.

In its opinion, the Pennsylvania high court said the state was not living up to its promise to ensure access to voter ID, and rejected the court’s “mere predictive judgment” that the law would not lead to disfranchisement:

In this regard, the court is to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards. If they do not, or if the Commonwealth Court is not still convinced in its predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election, that court is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction.

Reports have been rampant of thwarted efforts to obtain voter ID, and the state’s last-minute fix does not address a range of other obstacles to achieving “no voter disenfranchisement,” including the state’s professed lack of resources and training to issue photo IDs to all of those lacking one before election day, its capacity to ensure transportation to driver’s license centers, and its ill-preparedness to educate residents about the ever-changing requirements before election day. By conservative estimates, the law could disfranchise as many as 750,000 state residents.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s original opinion upholding the law relied upon a flimsy nineteenth century decision that claimed that vote-suppressing laws may be permissible to protect against ‘rogues,’ ‘strumpets,’ and ‘wandering arabs.’ During oral argument Tuesday, Simpson signaled that he would issue some sort of injunction, saying, “I’m going to ask both sides what the injunction should look like.”