Commonwealth Court Modifies Preliminary Injunction Against Voter ID Law

While Pennsylvanians still await a ruling from the Commonwealth Court following last month’s 12-day trial, Judge Bernard McGinley issued an order late Friday afternoon modifying the terms of the preliminary injunction that currently blocks the law from being enforced.

Attorneys from both sides had already agreed to a third extension of the preliminary injunction that would prohibit the law from being enforced in the November 2013 election, but Judge McGinley’s order stated that the Court was unable to rely on the parties agreeing to further extensions if additional election(s) were to take place before the matter of a permanent injunction is settled.  Therefore, the court ordered that the preliminary injunction be extended not on an election-by-election basis as has been the case since last October, but rather until the Court concludes the legal proceedings on the merits of the case.

The other significant change to the injunction order relates to what poll workers may tell voters at the polls.  Previously, poll workers were permitted to ask for photo identification, and to inform voters who lacked ID that they would be required to provide photo ID in order to vote in the following election.  Judge McGinley pointed out in his order that this policy, in effect for the 2012 general election and the 2013 municipal primary election, resulted in voters being provided inaccurate information since the injunction was extended and voters were not required to show ID in the 2013 primary and will not be required to show ID in the 2013 general.

“There is no value in inaccurate information, and the Court does not deem inaccurate information educational,” read a portion of the Court order.  “Telling a qualified elector that he or she will not have the right to vote in future elections if he or she does not obtain compliant photo ID, when that information has been erroneous at best, deceptive at worst, will not be continued.  Not when this Court has witnessed two prior injunctions where the information, in effect, misled qualified electors.”

One of the plaintiffs in this case is, in fact, a woman who did not vote in the 2013 primary election because she had been informed by a poll worker in November that she would be unable to vote without first obtaining a compliant photo ID.

Last month, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO released an analysis proving that confusion over the status of the Voter ID law was to blame for over 35,000 voters being disenfranchised in the November 2012 general election.  At the request of PoliticsPA, the analysis was examined by Dr. Rolfe Daus Peterson, Associate Director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, who said the analysis was solid.  “I think they are being cautious in their estimate, the real number could be higher,” he said.

It is encouraging that Judge McGinley has recognized that misinformation is a disservice that risks disenfranchising voters.  We hope that the final decision on this case reflects the same deep concern for protecting voting as a foundational right in our Democracy.