State Supreme Court puts Voter ID appeal on fast track

Update, 4:50 pm: The Supreme Court today agreed to a request from the attorneys challenging the Voter ID law for an expedited hearing on the appeal of the Commonwealth Court ruling.  The justices will hear arguments about the case in their courtroom in Philadelphia's City Hall on Sept. 13.  Attorneys for the state earlier this week suggested the case be heard in mid-October.

From earlier: State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the sponsor of the state's controversial Voter ID law, offered to WHYY's Fresh Air program last week the story of a fellow Republican from the state House as proof that in-person voter fraud occurs.  But now Metcalfe's colleague, state Rep. Bernie O'Neill of Warminster in Bucks County, says the comments he made on the House floor during a debate about the legislation last summer were not accurate.

Bernie O'Neill
State Rep. Bernie O'Neill of Warminster, Bucks County

O'Neill, speaking on the House floor on June 23, 2011, said that he showed up to vote at his polling place during an election and found that somebody had already signed in as him and voted.  That seemed odd since O'Neill also said he was chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Warminster at the time "where everybody knew me" and he had voted at that polling place "forever." He even recalled being greeted by name by election workers when he walked in.

Based on the time-line O'Neill laid out, it appeared he was talking about the 2002 Republican primary election for the newly created 29th legislative district.  O'Neill, who won that election, today said he was really talking about an election in the early 1990s.  And it doesn't sound like the clear-cut case of voter fraud Metcalfe made it out to be on WHYY.

"I ended up being able to vote," O'Neill said, explaining that election workers called Bucks County officials to clear up the confusion.  "Somehow, they figured out it was human error."

O'Neill twice said Metcalfe, who represents a district north of Pittsburgh, "shouldn't be hanging his hat on me" to defend the Voter ID law. 

In fact, O'Neill said he voted with some apprehension for the Voter ID bill on the day that he spoke from the floor.  He wanted it to grow into more comprehensive legislation that also looked at voter registration and absentee ballots.  O'Neill said the legislation should start in 2013 to avoid the perception that it was designed to influence the 2012 presidential election.  And he thought the law should be less restrictive on what types of identification could be used to vote.

O'Neill said he had be reluctant to speak about the issue on the floor but GOP colleagues "kept hammering on me" after he told them about his trouble voting in one election.  He plans to correct the record when the House reconvenes.  You can read his floor remarks here (they start on page 45.)

The state Supreme Court is now handling an appeal to the ruling last week by a state Commonwealth Court judge, rejecting a request for a preliminary injunction to keep the Voter ID law from being implemented for the Nov. 6 general election.  Attorneys for the Pennsylvania Department of State, while defending the law, stipulated that they were offering no proof of in-person voter fraud.