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Judge upholds Pa. voter ID law

Aug. 15, 2012 at 9:27 PM   |   Comments

HARRISBURG, Pa., Aug. 15 (UPI) -- A Pennsylvania judge refused Wednesday to throw out the state's new voter ID law, ruling challengers did not prove it would prevent people from casting ballots.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, in a 70-page opinion, said stopping Pennsylvania from enforcing the law would be more burdensome than allowing the law to stand because preparations for the November election are already under way, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Republican lawmakers who passed the law and Gov. Tom Corbett, also a Republican, argued the law was needed to stop voter fraud, although lawyers for the state were unable during the trial to identify cases of voter fraud. Challengers said the law puts a great burden on some voters, especially the poor, minorities and the elderly, while there is no proof voter fraud is a major problem.

The case is headed, inevitably, to the state Supreme Court, currently split with three Democratic and three Republican justices, the newspaper said. A 3-3 ruling would allow the law to stand.

Simpson said the plaintiffs did a good job showing how the law would inconvenience individuals but did not prove that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable."

The lead plaintiff, Viviette Applewhite, 93, is a black Philadelphia resident. She testified during the trial about her difficulties obtaining valid identification documents.

"I just can't believe it," Applewhite told the Inquirer after learning of the ruling. "Too many people have fought for the right to vote to have it taken away like this. All I want is to be able to vote this November like I always have. This law is just ridiculous."

Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the re-election campaign of President Barack Obama, told reporters Wednesday the campaign will work "to ensure all eligible voters have the information they need to get to the polls in November and exercise their right to vote."

"Since the passage of the law our campaign has included information on the new provisions in volunteer trainings, information resources, online, and in voter registration and education activities, and we will continue to do so," Psaki said. "Now more than ever it is important that the Commonwealth follow through on its plan to make available free IDs to any voter who may need them. Regardless of party affiliation, we support ensuring any voter eligible to cast a ballot has the right to do so."

Psaki also talked about a court challenge in Ohio to a new policy implemented by Republican state elections officials to do away with some early voting hours for most voters while retaining them for military personnel.

"We made the strong case this morning that we believe in restoring equal and fair access to early voting and removing arbitrary obstacles to voting," she said.

Psaki said the case was about "restoring in-person early voting on the three days prior to Election Day for all eligible Ohio voters, including military and overseas voters."

During Wednesday's hearing in U.S. District Court, Democrats argued if military personnel can vote during the three days prior to Election Day, then all voters should have the same opportunity. An attorney for GOP Secretary of State John Husted argued that military personnel are treated differently from others -- getting absentee votes early, for example, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch reported.

"There is an easily rational basis for providing special accommodations for the military," William Consovoy said. "And that is all that is required."

Husted issued an order Wednesday that elections officials in all Ohio counties maintain standard operating hours for voters to cast early ballots.

The directive came amid controversy surrounding disparities in early voting hours, with early voting in urban areas restricted to normal business hours while early voting was to be made available evenings and Saturdays in Republican areas, the Dispatch said.

The directive does not resolve the legal dispute over different early voting rules for military and non-military voters, the report said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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