ABOVE PHOTO: Bishop A.E. Sullivan, President of the Interdenominational Ministers Conference, bottom center, speaks during the NAACP Voter ID rally in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol last month, along with hundreds of demonstrators descending on Pennsylvania’s Capitol in protest of the voter ID law. Despite the effort of the rally, the temporary injunction was struck down on Wednesday, Aug. 15 by Commomwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson.
(AP Photo/The Patriot-News, John C. Whitehead)
On Wednesday, Commonwealth Court decided not to grant a temporary injunction stopping the state’s new Voter ID law from going into effect. The law’s opponents vow to appeal.
By Denise Clay
In this round, it’s Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 1, Vivian Applewhite, 0.
On Wednesday morning, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson denied a requested temporary injunction to the state’s new Voter ID law. Under the law, which was passed this spring, voters would be required to show state-issued identification in order for their vote to count on Election Day.
That voters could use a provisional ballot, which would require them to bring in an ID within six days to be considered valid, or an absentee ballot, which would require the voter to show proof of not being able to make it to the polls, or in the case of a disabled person proof from their doctor of the disability, were among the reasons Judge Simpson gave for his rejection of the request.
In his 70-page opinion, Judge Simpson also said that the plaintiffs hadn’t met the burden of proof necessary for the injunction using a standard that put said burden on the plaintiffs rather than the state. He also said that enjoining the law at this point would mean more hardship than less because doing so would keep information that voters and voting officials would need to implement the law from getting to the necessary parties.
But the lower standard threshold was the main reason that the injunction was denied. That this standard was used instead of the standard of strict scrutiny, which would have put the burden of proof on the state, was a source of consternation to the team of lawyers that argued on behalf of the plaintiffs in this case.
“The judge used a standard that showed a lot of legislative deference,” said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, one of the plaintiffs in the case, in a tele-press conference held shortly after the decision was rendered. “On page 62 of the decision, he admits that if he had used strict scrutiny, the decision may have been different.”
“Strict scrutiny should have been used,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, another plaintiff in the case. “I don’t know of any other court that uses such a low standard to protect the right to vote.”
The decision saddened Viviette Applewhite, the lead plaintiff in the case. The 93-year-old Philadelphian has voted in every election over the last 50 years and faces the loss of her vote this year because of problems obtaining the birth certificate she needs to get a state ID card.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said in a statement. “Too many people have fought for the right to vote to have it taken away like this. All I want is to be able to vote this November like I always have. This law is just ridiculous.”
At a press conference held on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania NAACP, also a plaintiff in this case, had much harsher words.
“Nearly a month ago, a Pennsylvania state representative openly professed the intent of the voter ID law,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, President of the Pennsylvania NAACP. “Today, that same brand of politics can claim victory in suppressing the vote.”
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case thought that they had a good chance of winning because of the evidence they had, Hair said. Among this evidence was the stipulation that was made by the Pennsylvania Department of State that there were no instances of in-person voter impersonation in the Commonwealth.
There was also the testimony of Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele, who admitted under oath that she not only didn’t know what was contained in the bill, but also that the number of people who might be impacted by it, 780,000 according to the state, might not be accurate because it was a number she picked “because she was told to come up with one.”
Then there was the statement made by State Rep. Mike Turzai, who implied that the Voter ID law was a means of helping Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney get the state in his “win” column come November. The state went for President Barack Obama in 2008 and President Obama is leading in statewide polls so far this year as well.
Meanwhile as the legal jockeying continues, the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition is still hard at work trying to connect voters with the ID they’ll need to exercise the franchise in November. Zack Stalberg, President of the Committee of Seventy urged voters to get the ID necessary and if they had any questions about how to obtain it to call 866-OUR VOTE (866-687-8683) for help.
Labor activists and advocates for Senior Citizens and the homeless also called on citizens to make sure they have what they need to participate in the Nov. 6 election as part of a news conference held at the 1199C building in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Pat Eiding, president of the AFL-CIO said that his organization and the Labor Movement would continue their educational efforts to help ensure voters can get to the polls and cast their ballots in the November elections.
“We’re doing this by educating, by knocking on doors, by training trainers who can train folks from churches,” he said. “We’re going to get the message out and increase the base so much that we’ll have more people at the polls than the people who put this unfair law in place that would have ever expected.” Congressman Bob Brady has also promised to put together a phone bank to help alert voters to the ID law and to ensure that those who need to acquire the proper paperwork get it, said Karen Warrington, director of communications for Congressman Brady’s office.
But while the temporary injunction was not granted, this doesn’t mean that this is the end for the activist’s fight against this law. The legal team plans to file an appeal immediately with the state Supreme Court. How soon the court could hear this case is unknown, Clarke said.
“If [the Supreme Court] wanted to, they could resolve this in weeks,” she said. “They can act very quickly.”
The Voter ID law is scheduled to formally go into effect on Sept. 17.