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Pennsylvania judge blocks controversial voter ID law

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Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson had earlier refused to block the Pennsylvania law, saying that despite testimony about logistical problems, long lines, and confusion among voters, he did not believe it would lead to voter disenfranchisement.

The judge said that any voters lacking proper ID would be given the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot that could be verified and counted within six days of the election.

Lawyers challenging the voter ID law appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That court returned the case to Judge Simpson with instructions to take a closer look at the disenfranchisement issue.

Simpson said his injunction was tailored to address the portion of the new voter ID law that threatened to disenfranchise would-be voters. He noted that the law, which took effect March 14, had provided for a transition period that allowed voters to vote without presenting an ID during the Pennsylvania primary election.

In effect, the judge extended that transition period to include the general election on November 6. He said in a 16-page decision that election officials may continue to ask prospective voters to show photo ID at the polls, but that each vote must be counted regardless of whether a valid photo ID is presented.

He also directed that voters without identification would not have to cast provisional ballots. Instead, their ballots would be immediately counted.

Pennsylvania officials have issued roughly 12,000 new photo IDs in advance of the election. An estimated 100,000 eligible voters are believed to lack valid photo identification in the state, but estimates vary widely.

Simpson, who conducted a week-long hearing in August and two days of hearings last week, said he had expected the commonwealth to have issued more photo IDs by now. In that light, Simpson said that he was no longer convinced in his “predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement…”

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