HARRISBURG — A legal challenge to Pennsylvania's tough new law requiring each voter to show photo identification will reappear in court next week in front of the same judge who initially refused to halt the law.
A court clerk said Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson will take up the case Tuesday to comply with a Supreme Court-ordered review of whether registered voters are able to get the state-issued photo IDs they need.
If they cannot get the kind of access to a photo ID promised by the law, or if the judge believes any voters will be disenfranchised, then he is obliged to halt the law from taking effect in the Nov. 6 presidential election, the high court said in its ruling Tuesday.
The Supreme Court asked for an opinion by Oct. 2, just 35 days before the election.
Simpson originally ruled on the request for a preliminary injunction in August, saying the plaintiffs did not show that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable." But the Supreme Court's directions to the lower court set a much tougher standard for tolerating voter disenfranchisement than the one Simpson used.
Witold Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is helping represent the plaintiffs, said he expects a two-day hearing, with witnesses testifying and affidavits from people who have had a difficult time getting a photo ID from the state Department of Transportation.
"There a good number of voters getting turned away, typically because the PennDOT people can't find them" in a state database of voter registration information, Walczak said.
In some cases, Walczak said, a person's voter registration information is not in the database because the person registered relatively recently. In other cases, he said, people have been registered for years, but for some reason PennDOT employees cannot find their database records.
"In either event, the people are being turned away without ID and told to come back another time," Walczak said.
State officials say they believe that any legal voter who wants to get a state-issued ID is able to do so.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed the law in March after every single Democratic lawmaker voted against it. The prior law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time and it allowed non-photo documents such as utility bills or bank statements.