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Pa. Supreme Court Sends Voter ID Ruling Back To Lower Court For Review

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(The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the Voter ID appeal in its Philadelphia courtroom, in a proceeding that was televised -- a rare occurrence for the state's high court.  File photo)

(The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the Voter ID appeal in its Philadelphia courtroom, in a proceeding that was televised — a rare occurrence for the state’s high court. File photo)

(Capitol dome, Harrisburg, Pa.   File photo) Tony Romeo
  Tony Romeo is Harrisburg bureau chief for KYW Newsradio...
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By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Opponents of Pennsylvania’s recently enacted voter ID law have notched a preliminary victory in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Commonwealth Court had previously upheld the law, but the state high court has now sent the case back to the lower court for further review (see previous stories).

In particular, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court notes that Commonwealth Court concluded that there would be adequate time for people who need IDs to get them in time for the November election.

But the Supreme Court, saying that implementation has been “by no means seamless,” has sent the case back down to the lower court to make sure that no one will be disenfranchised if the law remains in effect.

The ruling puts the ball back in Commonwealth Court, and says the lower court should determine if an injunction needs to be issued.

In dissenting opinions, Supreme Court justices Seamus McCaffrey and Debra Todd said there’s no time left to explore the issue and a decision should be made now as to whether voters may be disenfranchised — with Justice Todd saying the state Supreme Court has chosen to “punt rather than act” at a critical time.

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KYW’s Cherri Gregg spoke with Zack Stalberg, president of the nonpartisan voting rights group “Committee of Seventy,”  who said today’s ruling leaves a potential mess for voters and election officials.

“It makes the chances of this being decided and well implemented by November less likely,” he said.

Stalberg says Commonwealth Court judge Robert Simpson will now have to look at how the law is being implemented now that voter education efforts are under way and now that the new Department of the Commonwealth ID actually exists (see related story), to see whether there is a real chance that voters could be disenfranchised based on the full scope of the facts.

John Jordan, director of civic engagement for the Pennsylvania NAACP, which is a party to the case, said his experts are confused by the decision but take some solice in the high court’s overall response.

“We are a little pleased with these judges’ opinion, and that fact that they are unanimous in stating that they will not be party any voter disenfranchisement or partisan politics,” he said today.

A spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Department of the Commonwealth says the ruling will not affect its ongoing voter education or the issuance of voter IDs.

So, the real question is, what does this mean for voters?   Here’s Stalberg’s advice:

“Move toward getting the voter ID and do not count on the courts resolving this issue.”

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