by Chris Potter
OK, this just in: Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has just issued a ruling that scraps the voter ID requirement in the November elections. Just as happened in the spring primary, voters will be asked for a photo ID that meets state requirements... but not required to present it.
Simpson's ruling does not throw out the law completely, but it does the next best thing. Under the state law, voters who came to the polls without IDs would be allowed to complete "provisional ballots," but those votes would not be counted unless the voter could provide adequate identification six days after the fact. Simpson's ruling tosses that requirement. Instead, his ruling would extend the "transition provisions" used in the spring, when poll workers would ask for, and inform voters about the need for, photo IDs. Extending that requirement, Simpson wrote, would retain the law's overall scheme, without invoking the burdensome process of verifying a provisional ballot.
"I will enjoin enforcement of those provisions ... which amend the provisional ballot procedures of the Election Code and cause disenfranchisement based on failure to present photo ID for in-person voting," Simpson wrote. "The injunction will have the effect of extending the express transition provisions of Act 18 through the general election."
UPDATED: There's been some confusion from other media outlets on this point, but our reading of Simpson's decision -- and that of the ACLU -- is that provisional ballots will not be needed for voters who lack ID. One of the "transition provisions" named in his ruling is that voters who showed up at the polls during the spring primary need NOT use provisional ballots.
Simpson agreed with the law's challengers that, while the state had made numerous efforts to streamline the ID-application process, with just five weeks to go, "I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access." In fact, he wrote, "any new deployment will reveal unforeseen problems which impede implementation."
While Simpson declined to toss the law out — its terms will apply to future elections — the law's opponents are calling it a win.