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