Buoyed by Judge’s Ruling, Common Cause Urges Pennsylvania to Help Voters Get Proper ID

In the wake of a Pennsylvania judge’s ruling blocking full enforcement of the state’s restrictive Voter Photo ID law, the state should implement an “emergency” voter education program to help both voters and election workers comply with the law, Common Cause said today.

“After spending months warning voters that they would need photo ID to vote on November 6, the Department of State and counties now need to shift gears and conduct a massive public education campaign to inform voters that no one will be turned away from the poll booth simply because he or she does not have a photo ID,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued an injunction on Tuesday setting aside – for the 2012 election only – key provisions of the voter ID law. With the election just five weeks off, Simpson said he was not satisfied that the state has enough time to implement the law and provide the proper ID to every eligible voter. The ruling means that every registered voter in Pennsylvania will have the right to vote in the 2012 General Election without showing a photo ID -although photo ID will still be required for elections in 2013 and beyond.

“We’re gratified that Judge Simpson’s decision recognizes that if the state is going to require voters to produce a photo ID at the polls, it must do everything possible to ensure that every voter has access to that ID,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

Kauffman said re-education of poll workers is critical to ensure that all eligible voters will be permitted to cast their ballots. In 2008, Common Cause Pennsylvania’s team of 150 poll monitors found numerous polling places where election officials were not properly trained on identification requirements for voting. At one polling place at State College, Common Cause’s poll monitors found that misinterpretation of the law resulted in a three-hour wait to vote and hundreds of students being forced to vote by provisional ballot; dozens were forced to write their votes on scraps of paper after the supply of provisional ballots was exhausted. Efforts must be made to prevent similar disruptions at the polls that could lead to improper disenfranchisement, Kauffman asserted.

In issuing his ruling, Judge Simpson wrote that actions by the Department of State and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) did not cure problems voters were experiencing in gaining access to the required photo ID. He also noted that with Election Day just five weeks away, the agencies were highly unlikely to be able to supply all the needed IDs.