Dealing a blow to Republicans’ hopes of carrying Pennsylvania in the presidential election, a judge Tuesday blocked the state from enforcing its GOP-backed voter identification law in November.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, cited concerns over “disenfranchisement,” saying there wasn’t enough time for state officials to make sure everyone who needs a photo ID would have one by Nov. 6.
Judge Simpson said in his ruling that poll workers could still ask voters to produce a photo ID on Nov. 6, but they will be allowed to vote without one. The court did not strike down the law altogether; the judge rejected efforts by opponents of the law to stop state officials from educating voters about the photo ID requirement.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration argued in favor of the law, saying other states have enacted similar statutes that have been upheld on appeals.
The ruling could still be appealed, but the law — approved last spring — will not take effect until next year at the earliest.
The judge upheld the statute in August after hearing testimony. But the state Supreme Court last month told Judge Simpson to reconsider and to focus on whether the state had done enough to ensure “liberal access” to photo ID cards.
Judge Simpson said in his opinion Tuesday, “I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. For this reason, I accept petitioners’ argument that in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed.”
He added: “I am not still convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election.”
The law is one of at least 11 across the country — largely backed by Republican legislators — requiring voters to show photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport. Republicans say the laws are necessary to prevent election fraud.
A recent Franklin & Marshall College poll found that nearly 3 in 5 registered Pennsylvania voters favor the photo identification requirement.
But Democrats argued it would prevent mostly poor and minority voters in the state from voting. Democrats were joined in their challenge to the law by the AARP and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the Pennsylvania law should be struck down in its entirety.
“I am encouraged that citizens in Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote this November without the politically motivated restrictions that Republicans tried to impose,” Mr. Cummings said in a statement.
“Voting is a right that should be encouraged for all eligible Americans, not a privilege reserved for a select few. While today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for the fair democratic process, I believe the law should be invalidated in its entirety, and I am hopeful that the appellate court will do so.”
After Republican legislators approved the law last spring without any Democratic support, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, Allegheny Republican, boasted the measure would enable Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to carry Pennsylvania. Democratic candidates have won the state in the past five presidential elections.