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Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruling: Judge Halts Enforcement Of Law For Election

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A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday postponed the enforcement of the state's new strict voter ID requirement until after the November presidential election.

In a much-anticipated ruling, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. ordered that voters without government-issued photo ID should be allowed to cast regular ballots.

"That's a huge win," said Witold J. Walczak, an attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, "because last week the judge was suggesting that he was going to have every [voter without ID] vote provisionally."

At the same time, the judge specifically ruled to allow the state to continue its education and advertising campaign, which currently tells voters that IDs are required.

Walczak said that if the state doesn't change that message, "we may be back in court."

"You can't be telling people you need ID if you're not actually requiring ID," he said. "That advertising has to be modified to reflect reality."

"Confusion is not a good thing on election day," he said. "Confusion is going to mean some voters stay home. Confusion is going to mean that some poll workers get it wrong."

Matthew Keeler, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania secretary of state, said the state is "pleased because the law itself hasn't changed. What's going on is there's a soft rollout for the general election, just like the primary."

Voters will still be asked for ID, he noted. If they don't have it, they'll be given information on how to get it.

As for the advertising campaign, "we're looking into what needs to be updated," Keeler said. "To completely take that away, would just muddle the area, as it were."

"We'll work on fixing things if we think they need to be fixed," Keeler added.

Opponents of the law had expressed fears that it could dissuade or prevent tens of thousands of mostly poor, elderly, young or infirm citizens from voting.

Simpson's injunction "will have the effect of extending the express transition provisions of [the new law] through the general election," the judge wrote. That means that, just like during the primary election, voters will be asked for ID but still be allowed to vote if they don't have it.

The law as passed by the Republican legislature and signed by the Republican governor had only allowed people without ID to cast "provisional" ballots, which would be thrown out unless they returned with ID within six days.

The Pennsyvlania legislature is one of several that, after Republicans took control in 2010, passed legislation to make it harder, rather than easier, to vote.

The voter ID bills, like similar moves to restrict voter registration, eliminate early voting, purge voter rolls and send pollwatchers into minority precincts. All are ostensibly intended to prevent voter fraud, an almost nonexistent problem according to research on the issue. In contrast, such moves have a disproportionate effect on minorities and young voters, and ultimately serve to block legitimate but probably Democratic voters from exercising their constitutional rights.

Simpson's new decision comes six weeks after he upheld the entire law as is.

His initial ruling dealt mostly with whether the General Assembly had the authority to establish such voting requirements. Simpson decided it did -- basing his decision in part on a bigoted and discredited 19th century state court decision.

Opponents of the law appealed, and Pennsylvania's Supreme Court sent the case back to Simpson, this time ordering him to rule on the practical side of things, namely: Was the state upholding the law's procedures for deployment of ID cards such that there would be "no voter disenfranchisement" as a result?

The high court's order seemed designed to force the judge to enjoin the law, given that the state had stipulated it wasn't following the exact procedures set out in the law and that so many registered voters clearly still lacked ID.

Witnesses last week movingly described the many frustrating barriers faced by the elderly and infirm in particular in their attempts to get ID.

But on Thursday, Simpson indicated that he would let "the good parts" of the bill stand.

UPDATE 1:45 p.m. -- Supporters of voter ID requirements had mixed reactions to the decision on Tuesday.

Hans von Spakovsky, a determined advocate of restrictive voting laws, celebrated a victory -- just not quite yet.

"While this may seem to be a win for opponents of common-sense election reform efforts like voter ID, it is actually a loss" for them, he blogged for the Heritage Foundation. "The law is still in place and remains valid."

Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who sponsored the voter ID bill, lashed out at a "judicial activist decision" he called "skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID." Simpson, he wrote, has chosen "to openly enable and fully embrace the ever-increasing entitlement mentality of those individuals who have no problem living off the fruits of their neighbors' labor."

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