The Commonwealth judge asked to further scrutinize the voter ID law in Pennsylvania to determine whether eligible voters can obtain IDs just dropped a huge hint about his expected ruling in the case. Yesterday, the judge, Robert Simpson, asked both counsels what an injunction of the law should look like. This ought to be seen as a precursor to blocking at least some of the law.
At the conclusion of a full day of hearings on the matter, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson asked attorneys for the state and for the civil rights and voting rights groups challenging the law what each side would include in any injunction he might issue.
“I’m going to ask both sides what the injunction should look like,” Simpson told the attorneys at the end of the first day of what is scheduled to be a two-day re-hearing. “I’m giving you a heads up. I need input from people who have been working on this longer than I have.”
Simpson, who upheld the law in August, called the hearing on orders from the state’s highest court to reconsider his ruling. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week told him to decide by October 2 whether voters have “liberal access” to the mandated IDs, and if they don’t, to block the law before the November 6 election.
It seems clear that Simpson cannot find evidence rising to that “liberal access” standard. Pennsylvania delivered a tell when they relaxed requirements for obtaining an ID. Previously it would take two trips to a local Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) center to get one. Now the state reduced that to just one. They also removed the proof of residence requirement, while keeping the need to provide a Social Security number. This was obviously done to avoid an injunction. The lawyers opposed to the law want it enjoined for the entirety of this election, pending a full trial on the merits in the future. They say that a change to the requirements six weeks before the election is far too late to make a difference.
Incredibly, a spokesman for PennDOT said that only 11,000 voters have obtained the ID so far. Estimates were that 750,000 could be disenfranchised by the law.
Simpson has until next Tuesday to rule in the case, but he indicated at yesterday’s hearing that he would make a ruling as soon as possible, perhaps after another set of hearings tomorrow.
While this may not seem as vital with Pennsylvania slipping away as a swing state in the Presidential election, lots of downballot races would be impacted by the implementation of the voter ID law. And democracy is strengthened by the participation of everyone who wants a chance.