Court begins review of Pa. voter ID law

President of the NAACP, Benjamin Todd Jealous, right, speaks to a crowd during the NAACP voter ID rally to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law, Sept. 13, 2012. AP Photo/Michael Perez

(CBS News) HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's tough voter ID law is getting another day in court as Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson has been ordered to review the current process of issuing photo IDs required to vote under the law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said that if Judge Simpson finds that voters are unable to easily obtain required IDs or if some voters will be disenfranchised by the ID requirement, he must block the law from taking effect before the November's elections.

Judge Simpson previously presided over a hearing on the law in August when he declined to issue a preliminary injunction and opponents of the law appealed his decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The state supreme court heard the case earlier this month and decided to returned the case to Judge Simpson to assess the availability of ID cards in light of "expedited" efforts put forth by the Pennsylvania government.

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The voter ID law was signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March; the law generally requires voters to present a photo identification card in order to cast a ballot.

The law also requires the state government to educate voters on the new ID requirements and issue free ID cards to those without proper ID. Pennsylvania officials have said they will spend $5 million on voter education and outreach to help voters get the identification they need.

Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that have passed ID laws in the past two years.

The main issue in Tuesday's hearing is that the process for issuing IDs has been stricter than what was originally intended under the law.

The voter ID law established a policy of "liberal access" to identification cards, but national security concerns associated with making it too easy to get a government issued ID, have resulted in a more rigorous process for voters to get IDs.

Under the current system those seeking to obtain a voter ID must present a birth certificate with a raised seal (or equivalent document), a Social Security card, and two forms of documentation showing current residency.

According to court documents, these requirements were put in place because the IDs, which are issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), can be used to board commercial aircrafts.

"The law does not require those kinds of - the kind of identification that is now required by PennDOT for PennDOT IDs, and it's the Homeland Security issues," according to Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele.

Pennsylvania officials testified that they are in the process of "implementing several remedial measure on an expedited basis" to help get voters IDs including a non-secure Department of State (DOS) ID card which is also available through PennDOT.

But, the DOS card is only available for those who have already been vetted through the more rigorous application process for a secure PennDOT ID card and the DOS cards have only been available for a month.

According to legal documents filed in advance of Tuesday's hearing, Pennsylvania has issued 8,795 free secure PennDOT identification cards between March 14 , when the law was signed, and September 19. And the Commonwealth has issued 1,005 DOS cards in the one month since those cards became available.

Opponents of the law claim that the ID requirement "imposes significant burdens on the exercise of that right" and creates "a very large problem" that could impact anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 voters in Pennsylvania.

But the government has consistently argued that the law is a tool to detect and deter voter fraud.

"It is simply a means to establish that you are who you say you are and that you are indeed a registered voter," said John Knorr of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

Under the new law, any voter rejected for lack of ID can still cast a provisional ballot and then produce an approved ID within six days to have their vote counted.

Both sides will present arguments and call witnesses in a hearing that is expected to last one to two days.

The outcome of Tuesday's hearing could have significant consequences in November, as opponents of the law argue that it disproportionately affects racial minorities and other groups that favor president Obama.

Judge Simpson must issue an opinion on or before October 2, next Tuesday, just 35 days before Election Day.

  • Paula Reid

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