HARRISBURG -- A legal challenge to Pennsylvania's tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification will reappear in court next week before the judge who initially refused to halt the law, even as registered voters claim they are being stymied in their attempts to get a valid photo ID.
A court clerk said Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson will take up the case Tuesday to comply with a Supreme Court-ordered review of whether registered voters are able to get the state-issued photo IDs they need to vote.
If they cannot get the kind of easy access to a photo ID promised by the law, or if the judge believes any voters will be disenfranchised, then he is obliged to halt the 6-month-old law from taking effect in the Nov. 6 presidential election, the high court said in its ruling Tuesday.
The Supreme Court asked for an opinion by Oct. 2, just 35 days before the election.
Simpson originally denied the request for a preliminary injunction in August, saying the plaintiffs did not show that "disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable." But the Supreme Court's directions to the lower court set a much tougher standard for tolerating voter disenfranchisement than the one Simpson used.
On Thursday, Simpson denied a request by lawyers for the plaintiffs to block the law without holding a hearing. State officials say they believe that any legal voter who wants to get a state-issued ID is able to do so.
Meanwhile, officials in two of Pennsylvania's most populous counties -- Allegheny and Montgomery counties -- were moving forward with plans Thursday to issue their own valid voter ID cards through county-owned entities such as nursing homes or community colleges that are allowed by the law to issue them.
A spokeswoman for Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said the county is responding to a flood of complaints from residents that they are having a hard time getting a state-issued photo ID card.
Pennsylvania's new law is among the toughest in the nation. The prior law required identification only for people voting in a polling place for the first time and it allowed non-photo documents such as utility bills or bank statements. The new law requires each voter to show a particular form of photo ID, such as a driver's license, passport, active duty military identification, nursing home ID or college student ID.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed it in March after every single Democratic lawmaker in the Republican-controlled state Legislature voted against it. A Philadelphia-area tea party group that backs the law said Thursday that if the voter ID law is not in effect for this year's election, it will work to defeat two state Supreme Court justices if they run for retention next year.
Witold Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is helping represent the plaintiffs, said Thursday that a hearing could last two days, with witnesses testifying and affidavits from people who have had a difficult time getting a photo ID from the state Department of Transportation.
"There (are) a good number of voters getting turned away, typically because the PennDOT people can't find them" in a state database of registered voters, Walczak said.
In some cases, Walczak said, a person's voter registration information is not in the database because the person registered relatively recently. In other cases, he said, people have been registered for years, but for some reason PennDOT employees cannot find their database records.
"In either event, the people are being turned away without ID and told to come back another time," Walczak said.
Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees voting and elections, said the agency is advising people that it might take a couple days for county election officials to enter a person's new voter registration information into the database once they receive it.
The last day to register to vote is Oct. 9.
Also, people who have not voted for nine years and who have not responded to Department of State outreach during that time may no longer be on the voter rolls, Ruman said.