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Judge Halts Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Until After Election Day

A Pennsylvania judge has halted the implementation of the commonwealth’s new voter identification law until after the November elections.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision to grant an injunction that blocks the law from taking effect is a temporary victory for the group of residents who argued that obtaining the required documentation to vote was too onerous. They could still appeal to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court before the law is implemented next year.

Election officials will be allowed to ask for identification at the polls Nov. 6, but voters will not be prohibited from casting their ballot if they don’t provide it.

“I reject the underlying assertion that the offending activity is the request to produce photo ID,” Simpson wrote in a decision released today. “Instead, I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement. As a result, I will not restrain election officials from asking for photo ID at the polls.”

Pennsylvania’s highest court last month ordered Simpson to review whether the voter identification measure would disenfranchise voters in this year’s elections. He was given until Oct. 2 to determine whether state officials were making an adequate effort to help voters without identification obtain necessary documentation before Election Day.

Though at the time of hearings last week there had been a “slight increase” in the issuance of drivers’ licenses during the last six months, almost 10,000 identification cards issued by the Department of Transportation and between 1,300 and 1,500 “safety net” cards issued by the Department of State, Simpson said the numbers weren’t high enough.

“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,” Simpson wrote.

Pennsylvania’s voter identification law is one of several being challenged across the country. Like most ballot-access measures, it pits Republicans concerned about voter fraud against Democrats worried about voter suppression.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed the law in March 2012 after it was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. It requires voters to show a photo ID issued by the federal government, the commonwealth, a municipal employer, an institute of higher education or a care facility.

Though Pennsylvania is typically a swing state in presidential elections, polls in recent weeks have shown that President Barack Obama maintains an edge over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes.

There are several competitive Congressional races in Pennsylvania, including the re-election efforts of Sen. Bob Casey (D) and Reps. Mark Critz (D) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R).

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