Judge Halts PA's Tough New Voter ID Requirement Print article Send a Tip from AP 2 Oct 2012 post a comment (AP) Judge halts Pa.'s tough new voter ID requirement By MARC LEVY Associated Press HARRISBURG, Pa. A judge postponed Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification requirement on Tuesday, ordering the state not to enforce it in this year's presidential election but allowing it to go into full effect next year. The decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on the law requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. However, Simpson based his decision on guidelines given to him days ago by the high court justices, and it could easily be the final word on the law just five weeks before the Nov. 6 election. One lawyer for the plaintiffs said it appeared to be a "win." His ruling came after listening to two days of testimony about the state's eleventh-hour efforts to make it easier to get a valid photo ID. He also heard about long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver's license centers and identification requirements that made it hard for some registered voters to get a state-issued photo ID. The 6-month-old law _ now among the nation's toughest _ has sparked a divisive debate over voting rights and become a high-profile political issue in the contest between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, for Pennsylvania's prized 20 electoral votes. Pennsylvania, traditionally considered one of the most valuable a presidential swing states, is showing a persistent lead for President Barack Obama in independent polls. As a result, the state has been virtually empty of presidential TV ads and off the candidates' beaten paths to more contested states in recent weeks. Pollsters say an identification requirement could mean that fewer people end up voting and, in the past, lower turnouts have benefited Republicans in Pennsylvania. But Democrats have used their opposition to the law as a rallying cry, turning it into a valuable tool to motivate volunteers and campaign contributions while other opponents of the law, including labor unions, good government groups, the NAACP, AARP and the League of Women Voters, hold voter education drives and protest rallies. The voter ID law was a signature accomplishment of Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature and its Republican governor, Tom Corbett. Republicans, long suspicious of ballot-box stuffing in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, justified it as a bulwark against any potential election fraud. But Democrats objected furiously, accusing Republicans of using old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics to steal the White House from Obama by making it harder for young adults, the poor, minorities and the disabled to vote. Protests, warnings of Election Day chaos and voter education drives ensued, as the law's opponents _ including the AARP, the NAACP and labor unions _ began collecting stories of people who had no valid photo ID and had encountered stiff barriers in their efforts to get one from state driver's license centers. It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, and Georgia's top court upheld that state's voter ID law. But a federal panel struck down Texas' voter ID law, and the state court in Wisconsin has blocked its voter ID laws for now. The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law earlier this year. The plaintiffs _ a group of registered voters, plus the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People _ had sought to block the law from taking effect in this year's election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality. The constitutionality of the law was not a question before Simpson. Rather, the state Supreme Court had ordered him to stop the law if he thought anyone eligible would be unable to cast a ballot because of it or if he found the state had not complied with law's promise of providing liberal access to a photo ID that voters were required to carry on Election Day. Las week, the Corbett administration overhauled the process for getting a voting-only ID card _ an admission that the state had not met the Supreme Court's test for the whether the law should stand. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below. Some political momentum could be on the line when a judge rules on whether to keep intact Pennsylvania's tough new law requiring voters to show photo identification in next month's presidential election. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson is under a state Supreme Court order to rule no later than Tuesday, just five weeks before voters decide whether to re-elect President Barack Obama, a Democrat, or replace him with Mitt Romney, a Republican. Simpson heard two days of testimony last week and said he was considering invalidating a narrow portion of the law for the Nov. 6 election. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is possible. Up for grabs are Pennsylvania's valuable 20 electoral votes, the sixth most. For now, Republican candidates are trailing in polls on the state's top-of-the-ticket races. The law, opposed furiously by Democrats, has nevertheless been a valuable Democratic Party tool to motivate volunteers and campaign contributions as other critics, including the NAACP, AARP and the League of Women Voters, hold voter education drives and protest rallies. In recent months, Republicans have sent out fundraising appeals highlighting legal challenges to the law or an inquiry into the law by Obama's Department of Justice, and the party no doubt would add a court defeat to its rallying cry. The state's Republican Party chairman, Rob Gleason, insisted Monday that supporting the law is about good policy, not about motivating party voters. But then he criticized Democrats for opposing the law and for using it as an election issue. Don Adams of the Philadelphia-area Independence Hall Tea Party Association said his membership of thousands is closely watching the issue. "I think it'll drive our people even more, but I think they're already driven," Adams said. "I don't know how much more you can drive them." Christopher Borick, a pollster and assistant professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said he would expect Republicans to use the law's defeat to warn of higher Democratic voter turnout and make it part of the case for why efforts to turn out Republican voters are essential. Pennsylvania's new law, among the toughest in the nation, is a signature accomplishment of Republicans in control of Pennsylvania state government who say they fear election fraud. But it is an emotional target for Democrats who call it a Jim Crow-style scheme to make it harder for their party's traditional voters, including young adults and minorities, who might not carry the right kind of ID or know about the law. It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania." The high court told Simpson that he should stop the law from taking effect in this year's election if he finds the state has not met the law's promise of providing easy access to a photo ID or if he believes it will prevent any registered voter from casting a ballot. The injunction Simpson was considering revolves around the portion of the law that allows a voter without valid photo ID at the polls to cast a provisional ballot. It would effectively excuse those voters from having to get a valid photo ID and show it to county election officials within six days after the election to ensure their ballot will count. Instead, they might be required to submit a signed declaration to the county. Last week, Simpson heard testimony about the state's ongoing efforts to remove bureaucratic barriers for people to get a valid photo ID. He also heard about long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver's license centers and identification requirements that made it harder for some registered voters to get a state-issued photo ID.