Implementation of Pennsylvania's voter identification requirement will be delayed until next year, under a ruling handed down Tuesday morning, Oct. 2 by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson. That doesn’t mean the battle over the controversial law is over, the state could appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Simpson’s decision allowed the law to stand but ordered state officials not to enforce it on Nov. 6. It would go into full effect next year in time for the May primary.
So, as it stands, the November election will mirror this year’s primary.
Election workers will ask voters for a valid photo ID, but people without it can vote on a regular voting machine in the polling place and would not have to cast a provisional ballot or prove their identity to election officials after the election.
It was the second time the law came before Simpson.
In August he refused to issue an injunction stopping the law. However, last month the state Supreme Court ordered him to take up the case again and halt the law if he found any evidence that it disenfranchised any voters.
After hearing testimony in a two-day hearing last week, Simpson decided voters faced enough hurdles in their efforts to obtain ID that he delayed it.
Noting that only five weeks remained until Election Day, Simpson said that was not enough to time for all votes to get ID even as the number of IDs issued has continue to increase.
“In the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo Ids issued an the estimated need will not be closed,” Simpson wrote.
His ruling came after listening to two days of testimony about the state’s eleventh-hour efforts to make it easier to get a valid photo ID. He also heard about long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver’s license centers and identification requirements that made it hard for some registered voters to get a state-issued photo ID.
The 6-month-old law — now among the nation’s toughest — has sparked a divisive debate over voting rights and become a high-profile political issue in the contest between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, for Pennsylvania’s prized 20 electoral votes.
Pennsylvania, traditionally considered one of the most valuable of presidential swing states, is showing a persistent lead for Obama in independent polls. As a result, the state has been virtually empty of presidential TV ads and off the candidates’ beaten paths to more contested states in recent weeks.
It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
A wave of new voter identification requirements have been approved in the past couple years, primarily by Republican-controlled Legislatures.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, and Georgia’s top court upheld that state’s voter ID law. But a federal court panel struck down Texas’ voter ID law, and the state court in Wisconsin has blocked its voter ID laws for now. The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire’s voter ID law earlier this year, and a federal court is reviewing South Carolina’s law.
The plaintiffs — a group of registered voters, plus the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — had sought to block the law from taking effect in this year’s election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.