By Saranac Hale Spencer
Of the Legal Staff
Petitioners who challenged Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law are back in court after winning an injunction earlier this month because, they argue, the state is confusing voters by neglecting to correct its ad campaign about the photo identification requirements that will not be enforced for the coming election.
“The radio silence from the commonwealth about the abrupt change in voting requirements occasioned by the court’s October 2 injunction, and the failure to affirmatively correct six months of what is now false information about the need to have photo ID to vote on November 6 is indefensible and reasonably likely to disenfranchise voters without photo ID who have been led to believe they cannot vote and thus are likely not to bother trying,” according to the petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest groups that fought the law.
After being denied by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson in their effort to secure an injunction that would have stopped enforcement of the measure, challengers prevailed after the state Supreme Court remanded the case to Simpson with strict instructions.
Simpson’s October order means the law’s implementation will be the same as it was during the primary elections earlier this year, during which voters could be asked for ID, but didn’t need to show one in order to cast a ballot.
However, the state hasn’t amended the advertising campaign it began earlier this year to reflect the change to the law’s implementation, the petitioners allege.
“Petitioners’ counsel has received dozens of complaints from people that they have heard and seen radio and television ads that still say voters need photo ID to vote,” according to the petition filed today.
Just after Simpson issued the injunction, Ron Ruman, of the Department of State, said the state would review its ad campaign. He said it would focus on the radio and television spots that are airing because those have language indicating the IDs will be “required” in November, whereas the billboards and transit signs will likely stand.
“If we can’t get cooperation” from the state on amendments to the ad campaign, then the petitioners might file an appeal, said Witold “Vic” Walczak, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania, during a telephone press conference after the injunction came down.
“The commonwealth’s information campaign has been re-tooled to conform to the injunction, but the changes have been so slight and subtle that they do not and cannot effectively offset and counter the widely publicized pre-injunction messaging that voters without photo ID will not be permitted to vote in November,” according to the petition.
The petition asks Simpson to order the state to send corrective literature to voters who have gotten mailings indicating they will have to show ID to vote, immediately stop any advertising that tells voters they must have ID in November, and re-word robo-calls to clearly state that an ID won’t be required for the upcoming election, among other things.
They asked that the state respond by noon on Monday.