Pennsylvania voter ID law shouldn’t be enforced this time, judge rules

October 3, 2012

By , Washington POst

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday ordered state officials not to enforce the commonwealth’s tough new voter ID law in the November elections, a political victory for Democrats who say the measure is an attempt to discourage support for President Obama in a battleground state.

Pennsylvania has occupied a particularly important spot in what has become a series of partisan skirmishes over new laws on who will be allowed to vote this fall and how their votes will be counted.

Five weeks before the election, voters around the country face new requirements when they go to the polls, and some have more limited opportunities to vote before Election Day.

But those opposed to the changes have won key victories in the courts, where judges have had to balance a state’s traditional right to make rules for the electoral process with citizens’ fundamental right to vote.

A panel of federal judges blocked a new law in Texas, saying the state had not proved that the changes would not disproportionately harm minorities. State judges in Wisconsin stopped the statute there. South Carolina’s measure is under federal judicial review, with little time for implementation even if it is approved.

Pennsylvania is emblematic of the partisan dynamic that has motivated the changes.

As in many other states, a resurgent Republican leadership elected in 2010 moved quickly to enact one of the toughest ID laws, which required specific forms of photo identification that many residents — the number is disputed — lack. Lawmakers and new Republican Gov. Tom Corbett say the changes are necessary to combat voter fraud and restore confidence in the integrity of elections.

Democrats and civil rights groups say there is almost no evidence of the kind of voter-impersonation fraud that ID requirements would remedy. They allege that the real purpose of such laws is to suppress turnout of poor, urban and minority voters, who are the most likely to lack photo IDs.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who upheld Pennsylvania’s lawwhen he first considered it this summer,ruled Tuesday that state officials had not made enough progress in supplying photo IDs for those who lack them. He said it seemed likely that some otherwise qualified voters would be disenfranchised.

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