Northeast Times

Supreme Court sends voter ID back to lower court

Start­Frag­ment

The Pennsylvania Su­preme Court on Tues­day voted 4-2 to send an ap­peal of the state’s new voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion law back to Com­mon­wealth Court.

Just five days earli­er, six justices heard ar­gu­ments for and against the law and were ex­pec­ted to make a fi­nal de­cision.

In­stead, the Su­preme Court ordered Com­mon­wealth Court Judge Robert Simpson to de­term­ine by Oct. 2 wheth­er state agen­cies are provid­ing for “lib­er­al ac­cess” to the ID cards.

Simpson pre­vi­ously ruled that the agen­cies had suf­fi­cient plans in place, but that was be­fore the Aug. 27 un­veil­ing of the new vot­ing-only cards avail­able at PennDOT driver’s li­cense cen­ters.

Elec­tion Day is Nov. 6.

In March, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a bill passed by the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled le­gis­lature to re­quire voters to present photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion at the polls, be­gin­ning this fall.

Op­pon­ents lost an ap­peal to Com­mon­wealth Court and took their case to the state’s highest court.

Of the six justices who listened to ar­gu­ments last week in a 90-minute hear­ing in a City Hall courtroom, three are Re­pub­lic­ans and three are Demo­crats. A sev­enth mem­ber is sus­pen­ded while she faces crim­in­al charges.

“What’s the rush?” asked Justices Seamus Mc­Caf­fery and Debra Todd.

Mc­Caf­fery, a Bustleton res­id­ent, also wondered if polit­ics played a role in pas­sage of the law. He and Todd dis­sen­ted on Tues­day’s rul­ing.

The Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Chief Justice Ron Castille, who lives in Rhawn­hurst, did not give any sig­nals about how they would rule. Castille is viewed as a pos­sible swing vote. Demo­crat­ic Justice Max Baer sided with the Re­pub­lic­ans in send­ing the mat­ter back to Simpson.

Ac­cord­ing to the In­quirer Pennsylvania Poll, al­most two-thirds of Pennsylvani­ans sup­port the law.

Re­pub­lic­ans are in fa­vor, 85 per­cent to 12 per­cent. Demo­crats are in op­pos­i­tion, 51 per­cent to 46 per­cent.

White people back the law by 69 per­cent to 29 per­cent. Black people op­pose it, 65 per­cent to 31 per­cent.

The NAACP ral­lied against the law on the day of the hear­ing.

“The ques­tion is really why did you have to change the law,” asked the Rev. Kev­in R. John­son, pas­tor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. “Did you change the law be­cause you knew that people lack photo ID in poor black and brown com­munit­ies?”

Sup­port­ers say the law guards against voter fraud. Teri Adams, pres­id­ent of the In­de­pend­ence Hall Tea Party As­so­ci­ation, poin­ted to two books au­thored by John Fund, who found polling booth fraud in Phil­adelphia and else­where.

“All to the ad­vant­age of Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates,” she said.

To vote this year, in­di­vidu­als will have to show photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion at their polling places. They can pro­duce a driver’s li­cense or non-driver’s li­cense; a pass­port; an act­ive duty or re­tired mil­it­ary ID card; gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ee card; col­lege iden­ti­fic­a­tion is­sued to stu­dents, em­ploy­ees and alumni; or ID cards is­sued by care fa­cil­it­ies.

Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity has e-mailed stu­dents ad­vising them of the re­quire­ment. Stu­dents can re­gister at the Cam­pus Cen­ter build­ing and have their ID cards val­id­ated as an ac­cept­able form of iden­ti­fic­a­tion for vot­ing.

In­di­vidu­als who do not have the afore­men­tioned forms of iden­ti­fic­a­tion can go to a PennDOT driver’s li­cense cen­ter to ob­tain a free photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion card. They must sup­ply a So­cial Se­cur­ity card and either a birth cer­ti­fic­ate or pass­port, along with two proofs of res­id­ency, such as a lease agree­ment, mort­gage doc­u­ments, W-2 form, tax re­cords or cur­rent util­ity bills.

And for any­one who can­not se­cure a photo ID card from PennDOT, they can still ap­ply for a new Pennsylvania De­part­ment of State voter card. Those free cards are avail­able at driver’s li­cense cen­ters. In­di­vidu­als must provide two proofs of res­id­ence, such as a util­ity bill, along with their date of birth and So­cial Se­cur­ity num­ber. Once a PennDOT clerk val­id­ates the per­son’s voter re­gis­tra­tion status with the De­part­ment of State, the in­di­vidu­al will re­ceive the card on the spot. It’s good for 10 years.

PennDOT and the De­part­ment of State com­pared lists, and the fig­ures showed that there are al­most 759,000 more voters than those who have a PennDOT-is­sued iden­ti­fic­a­tion card. In an ex­am­in­a­tion of the 14 wards in the North­east, about 38,000 people are on the vot­ing list, but not the PennDOT one.

Sup­port­ers of the law say the fig­ures are in­flated.

Al­most 168,000 people on the list have not voted since 2007, a good sign that most of them have died or moved. Oth­ers have ID not is­sued by PennDOT. And oth­ers are on the list by er­ror, be­cause their names don’t ex­actly match when com­par­ing both lists, either be­cause of a mis­placed apo­strophe, a nick­name, a maid­en name, middle ini­tial, etc.

City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill (R-10th dist.) is on the list. His driver’s li­cense does not have an apo­strophe.

“It really doesn’t give you a lot of con­fid­ence in the sys­tem,” he said.

To make things easi­er, state Rep. John Sabat­ina Jr. (D-174th dist.) plans to in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion that would al­low the of­fices of state Sen­ate and House mem­bers to is­sue ID cards for vot­ing pur­poses.

“My con­stitu­ent ser­vice of­fices are con­veni­ently loc­ated and easy for con­stitu­ents to vis­it,” he said. “The re­gion­al PennDOT of­fice is not.”

There are five PennDOT loc­a­tions in Phil­adelphia. On Thursdays from Sept. 27 to Nov. 8, the of­fices will re­main open un­til 7 p.m.

“Ex­tend­ing our hours in the state’s largest county demon­strates PennDOT’s con­tinu­ing will­ing­ness to help cus­tom­ers com­ply with the voter ID law,” said Barry Schoch, PennDOT sec­ret­ary. ••

Any­one in need of photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion to vote can vis­it any of PennDOT’s 71 driver’s li­cens­ing cen­ters. Only one, at 919-B Levick St. in Ox­ford Circle, is loc­ated in the North­east. Oth­er close ones are at 4201 Ne­sham­iny Blvd. in Ben­s­alem and 2022 County Line Road in Hunt­ing­don Val­ley. The stand-alone photo cen­ters in May­fair Shop­ping Cen­ter and Hendrix Shop­ping Cen­ter in Somer­ton do not of­fer the ser­vice.

For more in­form­a­tion, call the De­part­ment of State toll-free at 1-877-868-3772.End­Frag­ment 

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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