Pennsylvania groups appeal judge's ruling in voter ID case

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 17, 2012 3:06 PM
Pennsylvania groups appeal judge's ruling in voter ID case

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A coalition of civil rights groups has asked Pennsylvania's highest court to review a voter identification law that it says will disenfranchise over 1 million voters ahead of the U.S. presidential election in the battleground state.

A state judge this week rejected their challenge to the law, which requires voters to present photo identification such as a driver's license in order to cast a ballot.

Republican lawmakers say it will help prevent voter fraud. Critics charge that it is a ploy to keep mainly Democratic voters from casting ballots.

Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, a lawyer for the Advancement Project -- one of the groups behind the appeal filed on Thursday -- said she had requested the top court hear oral arguments in the case during its next session, which runs September 10-14.

"Obviously if we wait for the damage to be done, the election will be over," Culliton-Gonzalez said on Friday.

She said older voters and students, as well as blacks and Latinos, are less likely to have the necessary ID to allow them to vote.

An analysis commissioned by opponents of the law said up to 14 percent of all eligible voters in Pennsylvania lack the necessary ID.

The state says the measure would help fight voter fraud such as in cases where convicted felons, who are barred from voting, try to cast a ballot. It has also said it was unaware of any instance of voter impersonation fraud.

The state attorney general's office had no immediate response to the appeal.

Pennsylvania, a major electoral prize in the November 6 presidential election between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, is one of 11 states to pass laws since 2010 requiring voters to show some form of legal identification.

Civil and voting rights groups, including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, had sought a preliminary injunction to block the law in Pennsylvania, arguing it erects unfair hurdles for many legitimate voters who lack an acceptable form of identification.

But Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson found the groups failed to show the law was unconstitutional because it applies to all qualified voters, requiring them to present an ID that can be obtained free of charge.

Judges will be stationed at polling places to resolve individual disputes, he added.

One of the voters on whose behalf the legal challenge was filed got good news this week. Viviette Applewhite, 93, who has voted in virtually every election for seven decades but has been unable to obtain ID, on Thursday was granted the Department of Transportation ID she needs to vote, the Advancement Project said.

"That's really great for Mrs. Applewhite, but what about everyone else?" Culliton-Gonzalez said.

(Reporting By Edith Honan; Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)