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Pennsylvania Judge Blocks Controversial Voter ID Law


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. A Pennsylvania judge has blocked the state's new voter ID requirement from going into effect for November's election. Voters will be asked to show a photo ID at the polls. But if they don't have one, they will still be allowed to vote. It's the result of a temporary injunction issued today, in the closely watched case. The Pennsylvania law is among the most controversial of several voter ID laws recently enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures. NPR's Pam Fessler has more on today's ruling.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: For the most part, civil rights groups that have been fighting the new ID requirement, were thrilled by today's decision.

WITOLD WALCZAK: It's a huge victory.

FESSLER: Witold Walczak is legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and one of the lead lawyers in the case.

WALCZAK: Now, voters in Pennsylvania who are eligible to vote, who can sign their signature - and it matches the voter registration rolls, will be able to vote regardless of whether they have that ID. And that's a good thing for democracy.

FESSLER: And by the latest count, it could affect an estimated 100,000 state voters who don't have a driver's license, passport or other government-issued photo ID. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said in today's ruling, that he was concerned that there wouldn't be enough time before the election for all those people to get an ID. And as a result, he said, legitimate voters could be disenfranchised.

But Simpson did not block the whole law from going into effect. Poll workers must still ask voters to show identification, and the state can continue its education and outreach efforts. The ACLU's Walczak is worried this might confuse voters who think the requirement is still in effect for November.

WALCZAK: And it could potentially discourage folks who don't have ID, from showing up at the polls.

FESSLER: Which is one reason the ACLU and other groups say they could still appeal today's decision to the state Supreme Court. The state, too, has not made a final decision about whether it will appeal.

Republican backers of the law had mixed reactions. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the chief sponsor, said he was pleased the injunction was temporary, but said he disagreed with the judge that people couldn't get the ID they need by November.

REP. DARYL METCALFE: The in-person voting now will be - open up, once again, to people showing up and just voting because they say they are who they are - and don't have to prove it.

FESSLER: He and other backers of the law say it's needed to prevent voter fraud, although there was no evidence in court that in-person voter fraud has been a problem in the state. Today's decision also did not deal with the constitutionality of the law, which will be determined after the election. Ron Ruman is a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Secretary of State's Office, which has been implementing the ID requirement.

RONALD RUMAN: We do feel confident, going forward, that the voter ID law will be in place in future elections. So we really do encourage folks to go get an ID.

FESSLER: He says that will be the focus of the department's outreach efforts, from now until the election; although he said they're reviewing current ads, to make sure they comply with the judge's ruling.

What impact all this will have on the election, is unclear. Opponents of the law said the ID requirement would discourage minorities, and others who tend to vote Democratic, from going to the polls because they're less likely to have a photo ID. But the polls right now, show President Obama with a clear lead in the state. And Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College, thinks the law's impact would have been minimal, anyway.

DR. TERRY MADONNA: It wasn't likely to affect the outcome of the elections in Pennsylvania. It's probably helped Democrats - and motivate them a little more than might otherwise have been the case.

FESSLER: And indeed, groups that have mobilized in recent months, to make sure voters have the right ID, say they'll now turn their efforts to getting out the vote. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.

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