Yesterday, Judge Robert Simpson put a temporary hold on the full implementation of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, allowing for voters to cast ballots in November’s elections regardless of whether they have a state-issued photo identification or not. The ruling prompted yet another statement from the state’s GOP leadership that calls into question the motives for the law in the first place.
Up until this point, Judge Simpson had been deferring to state government officials, relying on what they said they would be doing to ensure everyone would be able to vote, as opposed to what they were actually doing, or even what they were capable of doing.
That worked for the initial voter ID hearing he presided over in July, when he initially denied an injunction based on a “predictive judgement” of the state’s best intentions. But then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court told him last month that he had to make a ruling based on the state’s currently practiced voter ID operations, and be sure it had zero intolerance for disenfranchisement.
Before Simpson’s court again last week, the state tried to reinterpret the Supreme Court’s orders in two ways: First, it tried to redefine disenfranchisement, saying the term didn’t include people who got fed up with the state’s onerous requirements. Second, the state’s lawyers said the Supreme Court meant for Simpson to make a ruling based on the “future perfect”—what they will have done—not what they are doing, and proceeded with pointing to the state’s voter ID law changes as their proof.
Judge Simpson bought neither. He found three problems (detailed at the bottom of page 3 in Simpson’s ruling in the link), one of which was that the law as demonstrated now is still deficient in granting all voters access to ID—“the evidence is similar in kind to the prospective ‘assurances of government officials’ testimony which the Supreme Court found an unsatisfactory basis for a ‘predictive judgment,’ ” he wrote. In other words, the future was imperfect.
Also, he rejected the state’s revised definition of “disenfranchisement” in no uncertain terms saying:
I am not still convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election. … I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement.”
While Simpson had deferred to the state in his previous ruling, what he failed to recognize was that the way the state officials—from the Department of State and Department of Transportation—were talking about the law was completely different than how the state legislators who created and passed the law were talking about it.
Yesterday, after Simpson’s ruling, Representative Daryl Metcalfe—lead sponsor of the voter ID bill and House State Government Committee majority chairman—made the following statement: