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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reviewed and Issued a Ruling on the Voter ID Law

These blogs are posted on behalf of Seidel, Cohen, Hof & Reid, LLC, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the firm or its attorneys. The information presented in this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.

Uncertainty remains as to what, if any, identification will be required to vote in Pennsylvania in this November's Presidential election.

On September 18, 2012, a decision was issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after reviewing the constitutional validity of the Pennsylvania Voter ID Law, which was signed into law by Governor Corbett in March of this year and which requires that voters present photo ID cards before they are permitted to enter the polling booths. The majority, recognizing the Declaration of Rights set forth in the Pennsylvania Constitution that elections must be free and equal and "no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage," concluded that the short-term implementation of the law may be unconstitutional, as the Commonwealth has conceded that the law is not currently being implemented according to its terms because of a disharmony between the Voter ID Law and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation standards for issuing identification. Representatives of state agencies had testified under oath that they were in the process of implementing several remedial measures on an expedited basis in an attempt to cure any wrongful disenfranchisement. Accordingly, the majority held that the Commonwealth should have an opportunity to update the record by presenting evidence to the Commonwealth Court on progress that has been made before a final decision is made whether the enforcement of the Voter ID law should be enjoined.

The majority order noted that, "if the Commonwealth Court is not still convinced in its earlier 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." The Pennsylvania Supreme Court order further requires a ruling from the Commonwealth Court on or before October 2, 2012, and noted that any further appeals would be reviewed on an expedited basis.

Madame Justice Todd filed a dissenting opinion, noting that, "[f]orty-nine days before a Presidential election, the question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it." She further noted, that "[l]ike the majority, I am not 'satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials.' But, unlike the majority, I have heard enough about the Commonwealth's scramble to meet this law's requirements.  There is ample evidence of disarray in the record, and I would not allow chaos to beget chaos. The stated underpinnings of Act 18 - election integrity and voter confidence -are undermined, not advanced, by this Court's chosen course. Seven weeks before an election, the voters are entitled to know the rules."

Justice McCaffery joined in Madame Justice Todd's dissent and also filed his own dissenting opinion. McCaffery noted the Commonwealth's stipulations, including that there is no evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania, and he concluded that the implementation of the law prior to this November's election was purely political. Justice McCaffery stated, "I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others . . . I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote."

Given the uncertainty of the state of the Voter ID Law, Pennsylvania citizens, who wish to vote in the upcoming election and who do not possess photo identification, are encouraged to do whatever they can to learn what may be required in the upcoming election.

DISCLAIMER:  This summary of the order and dissenting opinions issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was prepared by Jill Kelly McComsey, Associate Attorney of the Bethlehem law firm,Seidel Cohen Hof & Reid.  This summary should not be read to infer the position of any of the lawyers in this firm on this issue.

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