10/01/2012 08:26 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruling Looms

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pa., Oct 1(Reuters) - A judge was expected to rule Monday on whether a new Pennsylvania voter identification law gives voters liberal access to the documents needed to cast a ballot or should be blocked as restrictive five weeks before Election Day.

Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson said he planned to rule on the law before an Oct. 2 deadline imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court when it ordered him to reconsider his August decision upholding the law.

The state's high court directed him to issue an injunction if he finds Pennsylvanians are hindered in any way from getting the state driver's license, government employee ID or a state non-driver ID card they must show to vote.

National attention has been focused on the court fight over the law, which was passed by the Republican-led legislature in March without a single Democratic vote.

Supporters say the law 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. Similar debates have stoked controversy in other states.

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

Simpson asked lawyers on both sides to submit ideas for what kind of ruling he might impose in the event he follows the high court's instruction to block the law should he find voters have less than "liberal access" to the required ID.

"The problem I'm having is whether or not I grant an injunction, and what does it look like if I do," Simpson said at a court hearing last week. "I'm wondering if there's something else between all or nothing."

In response, Commonwealth attorney Alicia Hickok asked the judge to consider a narrow ruling that would apply only to voters who cast provisional ballots because they don't have ID on Election Day. Under the new law, provisional ballots are counted only if the voter shows ID within six days of the election.

A lawyer for the ACLU, one of several groups challenging the law, said the judge should issue a more sweeping injunction that would stop the law entirely - rather than affect only those casting provisional ballots.

"We do not see a remedy short of enjoining the ID requirement," ACLU attorney Vic Walczak told the judge. (Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Doina Chiacu)



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