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Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders second look at voter ID law

The state's Supreme Court asks whether the rush to implement the voter ID law in time for November's election might end up disenfranchising some Pennsylvanians. It wants the lower court judge to take a second look at that issue.

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Joe Michetti holds a sign to demonstrate the opposition of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law during the NAACP voter ID rally, Sept. 13, in Philadelphia.

Michael Perez/AP

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed a new voter ID law to proceed Tuesday, but it ordered the state judge who first OK’d the law to take a skeptical second look to make sure that, in the state's rush to provide IDs in time for the November election, Pennsylvanians aren’t being disenfranchised.

The 4-to-2 ruling suggests that the state has acted in “good faith” to ensure that all eligible voters could cast a ballot, but also asks if the rush to implement the law ahead of the 2012 election would damage “liberal access” to the polls.

“We are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect within a relatively short timeframe and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless in light of the serious operational constraints faced by the executive branch," the court's majority said in the ruling.

Primarily Republican-led legislatures have passed a number of tougher voting restrictions in the past two years aimed at ensuring that only eligible voters cast ballots. 

But Democrats, civil rights groups, and the US Department of Justice have raised questions in other states, including Texas and South Carolina, and have alleged that the new laws are veiled and illegal attempts to limit access to the polls for key Democratic constituencies. Seventeen states currently have voter ID laws, but there are lingering concerns in former Confederate states that the rules fit a pattern of prejudice against the poor and minorities, who, on average, are less likely to have a state-issued ID.

Research isn’t clear. Some studies have found that identity fraud at the voting booth is rare. But some states that have implemented voter ID laws, including Georgia, report that minority participation rates have not slipped, but rather have remained level or even increased.

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