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Pennsylvania Supreme Court expedites challenge to state voter ID law

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday agreed to expedite its hearing [order, PDF] of the challenge to the state's new voter ID law [HB 943 materials]. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court [official website] declined to issue an injunction [JURIST report] against the law last week. The decision prompted the challengers, 10 voters and several rights groups including the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) [advocacy websites], to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Arguments have been scheduled for mid-September [Philadelphia Inquirer report], meaning the court will hear the case fewer than 60 days before the November presidential election. The plaintiffs argue that HB 943 will disenfranchise a large number of voters and that Pennsylvania's rationale of preventing voter fraud is unfounded. The Commonwealth argues that HB 943 is necessary to ensure the integrity of elections and that the legislature acted within its purview. Some estimates predict that the law will bar as much as nine percent [Bloomberg report] of the Pennsylvania electorate from being able to vote.

In July the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that it would investigate Pennsylvania's voter ID law [JURIST report]. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania [advocacy website] challenged the law [petition for review, PDF; JURIST report] in May, asking a court to block enforcement of the law in the upcoming November elections. The group claims that the new law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution [text] and will prevent eligible voters from casting their votes. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett [official website] signed the bill into law [JURIST report] in March. It was passed earlier that week in the House of Representatives by a vote of 104-88. Supporters of the proposed legislation said that it will combat voter fraud. Unlike the current trend of voter ID laws, Pennsylvania's allows voters to vote without an ID as long as they verify their identity within six days of voting. Absentee ballots will also only require identification by Social Security number. There are now 32 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, but the issue remains controversial.

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