A Pennsylvania judge Tuesday delayed full implementation of a highly contested state law requiring strict photographic identification to vote in next month’s election, saying that authorities had not done enough to ensure that potential voters had access to the new documents.
The judge, Robert Simpson, who upheld the law in August when it was challenged by liberal and civil rights groups, was instructed by the state’s Supreme Court two weeks ago to hold further hearings. He was told to focus on the question of whether enough had been done to ensure “liberal access" to the picture ID cards or alternatives.
Simpson said in his Tuesday ruling that for the presidential election on Nov. 6, voters in Pennsylvania could be asked to produce the newly required photo IDs, but if they did not have them could still go ahead and vote. The decision could still be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls and this could cause confusion," said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, one of the groups that challenged the law. “This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for the law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy."
The Pennsylvania law, passed in the spring without any Democratic support, is one of 11 similar laws around the country passed by Republican-dominated legislatures. The laws’ backers say they are trying to ensure the integrity of the electoral process by preventing fraud. But Democrats accuse them of seeking to suppress the votes of the poor and members of minority groups who tend to have neither the needed ID nor the means to go to state offices and obtain one and who tend to vote Democratic.
In opinion surveys, substantial majorities of Americans back the voter ID requirements despite the fact that repeated efforts to demonstrate the existence of in-person voter fraud have shown there to be very little of it.
Pennsylvania is one of a number of swing states that could make the difference in the presidential race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, especially if the count is close.