Challengers to Pennsylvania's new voter ID law won a round in the state Supreme Court when the justices sent the case via a per curiam order back to the Commonwealth Court, vacating that court's decision not to issue a preliminary injunction last month.
Having shifted the burden to the state, which must now prove that nobody will be disenfranchised by the law, the Supreme Court has given the Commonwealth Court a deadline of October 2 to decide the case.
The case before the six-justice court, which is currently split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, has been the subject of much speculation in both legal and political circles for its potential to impact the November 6 presidential election.
A common theme running through not only the majority's per curiam opinion, but two dissents from Democratic justices, was concern for the timeline for the law's implementation and how it is being implemented.
In its per curiam opinion, the majority focused on the short timeline between the implementation of law, passed in March, and the presidential election in November, as well as the stopgap measure introduced by the Corbett administration this summer that would furnish eligible voters with a compliant ID without the onerous process required to get an official PennDOT ID card.
The law, often referred to as Act 18, requires voters to present a valid photo ID before they will be allowed to cast a ballot.
"We find that the disconnect between what the law prescribes and how it is being implemented has created a number of conceptual difficulties in addressing the legal issues raised," the majority said in its opinion.
The Supreme Court then remanded the case to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson to assess "the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available."
Preparations for the basic ID program, which was announced in July, were still under way when Simpson issued his opinion the following month. Government officials testified that the Department of State's voter ID program, which would provide identification cards that could only be used for voting through PennDOT offices, would allow people who can't get official PennDOT IDs to vote meaning that nobody would be disenfranchised.
The prediction that voters will have access to the ID necessary to cast a ballot by Election Day won't do, the Supreme Court said, vacating the lower court's judgment and remanding it for review in light of actual evidence of the ID program's effect. Pennsylvania began issuing the Department of State IDs on August 27 and, by the third week of the program, it had given out 805, said Ron Ruman, the press secretary for the Department of State.