09/27/2012 08:17 am ET Updated Nov 27, 2012

PA Voter ID Law Ruling Could Come On Thursday

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept 27 (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania judge may rule as early as Thursday on whether to block a voter identification law that could influence turnout in a key swing state in the U.S. presidential election.

Lawyers appearing for a second day of hearings on Thursday were asked by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson earlier this week for suggestions on what kind of injunction to issue should he find voters have less than "liberal access" to the IDs required to vote under the new state law.

Simpson said he planned to rule ahead of the Oct. 2 deadline set by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which ordered him to reconsider his August decision upholding the law.

The law, which was passed by the Republican-led legislature in May without a single Democratic vote, says that all voters must show either a state driver's license, government employee ID or a state non-driver ID card to vote.

With just six weeks before the tight presidential election on Nov. 6, national attention is focused on the court battle over the law. Supporters of the voter ID law say it is aimed at ensuring that only those legally eligible to vote cast ballots.

Critics say it is designed to keep minority voters, who typically vote Democratic, away from the polls.

The state of Pennsylvania has acknowledged that there has never been a single case of in-person voter fraud, according to court testimony.

Obstacles to obtaining IDs - from two-hour lines to crowded waiting areas with few seats to a lack of parking - were described by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a non-partisan watchdog group, at a press conference on Wednesday.

The group deployed observers this month to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation offices where the free IDs are issued. They found workers instructing those seeking the cost-free cards to apply for a different ID that costs $13.50, said center's executive director Sharon Ward.

One observer said elderly people seeking IDs at one center saw the crowd and left empty-handed.

"Although the Department of State ID was established to make it easier for individuals to obtain an ID, it appears  that there's confusion, that the facts about how to obtain this ID are not well known and PennDOT staff are having some difficulty managing this process," Ward said.

She said the law, passed in March, should be delayed until after the November election because of the problems.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Vicki Allen)



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