Students may not need their PennCards to vote this November, but the future of voter IDs has yet to be decided.
Though Pennsylvania courts issued an injunction to the voter ID law this Tuesday, the Civic House hosted a panel discussion of the law as part of its “Think About It” initiative Thursday night.
The “Think About It” program, co-sponsored by Penn Leads the Vote, organizes events showcasing different current event topics throughout the semester.
“We wanted to draw attention to a law that directly affects Penn students while providing students with the opportunity to register,” said Wharton and College junior Aarthi Ramesh, the Civic House Associate Coalition’s Public Health Liaison.
About 30 students attended the panel, which featured Carl Peridier, a board member at Philadelphia’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and political science professor Rogers Smith. The panel was originally supposed to feature a member of the Committee of Seventy, a political watchdog group in Philadelphia, but the member cancelled at the last minute.
The voter ID law was signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett on March 14. Beginning in July, organizations such as the ACLU began challenging the law.
This Tuesday, Judge Robert Simpson ruled to issue a temporary injunction to the law on the basis that the state could not ensure that voters could get proper identification by Nov. 6.
Peridier had strong feelings against the law from the start. He said, “These days we have a huge budget problem in this state and this state has spent millions of dollars on this issue so far — and for what purpose? You passed a law for a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s actually embarrassing.”
Peridier explained that when the injunction was issued, members of the ACLU “popped champagne bottles.”
Peridier and Smith both are convinced that the law was a Republican initiative to decrease the number of Democratic votes in Pennsylvania.
“I think it was brought on for partisan reasons,” Peridier said. “It would disenfranchise certain groups of people that might vote for [the opposing] party.”
Smith added, “We did have a Republican here in Pennsylvania acknowledge that, saying voter ID law will help Romney carry Pennsylvania.”
He noted that there has never been any evidence of significant fraud at polls. “You cannot as a political matter explain why we have these laws.”
Both panelists agreed that, despite the injunction, the law will have confused people. They hope the government will work to clarify the exact requirements that will be in place on Election Day.
Voters will be asked for an ID when they vote, but will not be required to have one. Those who can’t produce an ID will be given a pamphlet on how to get one.
Regarding the future of the voter ID law, Peridier said, “The judge is going to hold an initial hearing on Dec. 13 with the lawyers on either side to talk about a permanent injunction.”
Smith commented on the current polls, noting that Democrats are ahead in Pennsylvania. “The Romney campaign has pulled out of running ads in Pennsylvania. They’re not contesting it,” he said. Unless Republicans step up the campaign in Pennsylvania, Smith added, the state will go to Democrats.