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Judge Won't Block Pa. Voter ID Law


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. This presidential campaign season features not only battles between candidates, but fights over how the voting process should work. Today in Pennsylvania, a judge refused to block the state's new voter ID law from going into effect before the election. The law requires voters to show identification at the polls.

As we hear from NPR's Pam Fessler, opponents of the law say they will appeal.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Those fighting voter ID requirements in Pennsylvania and elsewhere say they'll disproportionately hurt the poor, the elderly and minorities who are less likely to have a photo ID. In Pennsylvania, they say hundreds of thousands of voters could be affected. But Commonwealth Court judge, Robert Simpson said in a 70-page actinium that he was unconvinced.

He called the requirement reasonable and said it did not impose a severe burden on voters.

SHANNON ROYER: This ruling for us really clarifies our mission for the next two and a half months.

FESSLER: That's Shannon Royer, Pennsylvania's Deputy Secretary of State, who oversees elections. He called the ruling a green light for the state to go forward with its plans, educating voters about the new law and issuing ID cards to those who don't have them.

ROYER: I think it's been demonstrated that everyone who needs an ID for voting purposes is able to get one.

JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: Pennsylvania is not ready.

FESSLER: Judith Browne-Dianis disagrees. She's co-director of the Advancement Project, one of the groups that brought the suit against the law.

BROWNE-DIANIS: They don't have the resources to make sure that there is an ID in the hand of every eligible voter.

FESSLER: She says some voters will almost certainly not be able to vote because of the new law and that her group will appeal the case to the state supreme court.

BROWNE-DIANIS: While this was a setback, we are not turning away from fighting this law and fighting these laws in other states.

FESSLER: But today's ruling will likely make that more difficult. Because of a vacancy, Pennsylvania's supreme court is now evenly divided with three Republicans and three Democrats. If the court splits, Simpson's ruling will stand. Rick Hasen is an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.

RICHARD HASEN: I think a decision means that were almost certainly going to have the Pennsylvania voter ID law in effect for the November elections.

FESSLER: He says Simpson's decision will be difficult to overturn. The judge noted a whole list of options for voters who have difficulty getting ID, including voting absentee or taking advantage of a new state ID that only requires them to show proof of residency. The Pennsylvania law is one of several enacted by state legislatures over the past few years in an increasingly partisan atmosphere.

Sponsors, who are almost all Republicans, say they're trying to prevent voter fraud. But opponents like Judith Browne-Dianis says it's really an effort to disenfranchise voters who tend to back Democrats.

BROWNE-DIANIS: This is nothing more than an attempt to suppress the vote for partisan gains.

FESSLER: Simpson, who's a Republican, said the fact that the state showed no evidence of in-person voter fraud was not enough of a reason to block the law from going into effect. Whether or not today's decision will ultimately affect the outcome in November is anyone's guess. Rick Hasen thinks that Democrats will try to turn it to their advantage to boost voter turnout.

HASEN: That this will be a motivating force to say that don't let the Republicans disenfranchise you. Make sure you get your ID and cast your ballot.

FESSLER: And indeed, while anti-ID groups have been busy in court, they've also been busy in the field, making sure that people without IDs get them by November. 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.