By Ernest A. Canning on 10/2/2012, 10:11pm PT  

Today, democracy in Pennsylvania was granted a reprieve. For now. Of a sort.

In response to a recent state Supreme Court remand, unanimously voiding his previous August ruling, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, issued his new ruling [PDF] today on the state GOP's polling place Photo ID restriction law.

He enjoined just a part of the law, but it effectively strikes down the most onerous provision of it --- but only for this November's Presidential election. There were also a number of troubling caveats with what he left in place, rather than striking down the entire statute as the petitioners had sought.

There has been some confused and confusing reporting on the ruling today. Here is where --- barring any additional court challenges --- the law stands at this moment, just over one month from Election Day...

  • Voters will NOT have to show a state-issued Photo ID at the polling place in order to cast a normal ballot.
  • Poll workers SHALL ask voters for Photo ID, but they may NOT keep them from voting if they do not have one.
  • Voters will NOT have to cast a provisional ballot if they do not have state-issued Photo ID.

Hopefully that clarifies the key points of today's ruling, which is being misreported in some quarters.

Also of note, the court refused to enjoin the Commonwealth's tax-payer funded $5 million ad campaign, as written into the statute for the purposes of "educating" the public about the polling place Photo ID requirement (even though it no longer practically applies for this election.)

Given that, and given that poll workers may still ask for ID this November, and given that the Photo ID requirements, barring more legal challenges, will be allowed to take effect next year, it is almost guaranteed that confusion will reign in parts of Pennsylvania this year. On the upside, the 1.6 million otherwise-eligible voters who it was feared could be disenfranchised, will at least be allowed to vote in this year's Presidential election, presuming they can navigate all of the confusion left in place by Judge Simpson.

Contrary to the claim made by GOP "voter fraud" fraudster, Hans Van Spakovsky, the court did not rule on the constitutionality of PA's Photo ID statute. A ruling on that aspect of the law will not be made until after the case proceeds to a trial, following the election, on the plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction.

Tonight, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow also discussed the confusion likely to be brought by the state's continuing ad campaign along with the other vagueries allowed to continue by Judge Simpson's ruling today...

She correctly notes that the effect could be that voters are misled into believing that they should stay away from the polls if they do not have the type of ID previously required under the law this year, as advertised in the state's "education" campaign. In short, she argues, Republicans are likely to get the many "benefits" of the law (disenfranchisement of Democratic-leaning voters), even with the most onerous elements of it barred for now.

Maddow also discussed similar confusion, purposely imposed by Republicans in Mississippi, concerning their Photo ID initiative, as well as some of the latest details in the GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal. (For the record, Maddow did a much longer piece last night, devoted entirely to the GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal. That segment can be found here. Her insightful piece on the PA Photo ID ruling tonight, and the other items mentioned above, follows below)...

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