ACLU files petition in Voter ID case seeking to bar state from disseminating outdated info

By Jon Campisi | Oct 22, 2012

A Pennsylvania judge recently halted the state’s controversial Voter ID law, preventing

the legislation from taking effect until after the November general election.

But apparently some in state government have yet to receive the message.

This was conveyed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which, on Oct. 19, filed a petition seeking to have the jurist who originally ruled on the case, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, order the state to cease disseminating conflicting information, primarily through advertising avenues, that informs members of the public that they need to have their photo ID with them come Election Day.

The request, the ACLU of Pa. stated, comes in the wake of several recent mailings by both governmental and non-governmental entities that contained outdated information about the law.

“Even if unintentional, the effect of this governmental and non-governmental misinformation is to confuse and mislead voters further into believing that they need photo ID to vote on Election Day,” the petition reads. “In light of the widespread media campaign before October 2 telling voters they need photo ID to vote and the continuation to the present of that message by governmental and non-governmental agents, the Commonwealth’s slight and subtle shift in messaging syntax is plainly inadequate to correct what is now, after the injunction, false information telling voters that they need photo ID to vote on Election Day.”

Simpson had initially ruled to uphold the law on the grounds that it was facially constitutional, but the case landed back in his lap after the state Supreme Court, to which the case was appealed, vacated Simpson’s initial ruling.

The high court said that Simpson could only uphold the law if it was clear that voters were not being overly burdened in the act of applying for, and receiving, a photo ID card this close to a federal election.

(The high court said it appeared voters were being disenfranchised).

On second review, Simpson overturned his earlier ruling and agreed to issue a preliminary injunction barring the state from requiring photo identification be shown by voters during the Nov. 6 election.

The law, however, is expected to move forward next year, where it will likely again be challenged by plaintiff’s attorneys.

In the Oct. 19 petition, ACLU lawyers and other plaintiffs’ attorneys working on the case wrote that a “combination of Commonwealth malfeasance and nonfeasance … has produced an environment clouded by confusion and misinformation that is likely to result in voter disenfranchisement, which contravenes the letter and spirit of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s directive that this Court issue an injunction to prevent voter disenfranchisement.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys seek to have Simpson direct the state to send corrective notices to citizens who received the false advertising since Oct. 2; instruct the commonwealth to immediately cease running any broadcast, print, electronic, Internet or other advertisements or displays that suggests to voters that they need IDs to vote in November; and re-word robocalls to say that photo ID is not required to vote next month.

The plaintiffs seek a response by the commonwealth by Oct. 22.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the case come from the ACLU of Pa., the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Advancement Project and the Washington, D.C. firm of Arnold & Porter LLP.

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