Joseph Strickland prepares a voter identification card for Sophie Masloff,… (Julia Rendleman, Pittsburgh…)
WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania's strict new photo ID requirement, which critics said could prevent tens of thousands of eligible voters from casting ballots, will not be enforced in the November election.
A state judge blocked the new rule Tuesday after deciding state officials had failed to take steps to make sure all registered voters would be able to get the identification card they would need.
"In the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed," said Judge Robert Simpson.
At least 90,000, and as many as 758,000, of Pennsylvania's voters did not have a current driver's license, a U.S. passport or a military ID card that would allow them to cast a ballot, according to court testimony. Not just any photo ID will work under Pennsylvania's law. It has to be a current government-issued photo card with an expiration date.
The decision is the latest — and perhaps most significant — in a series of court rulings that have stopped Republican-sponsored laws that tightened the requirements for voting.
Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would not move to revive that state's new photo ID law, a measure championed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats and civil rights advocates. State trial judges had halted that law as well.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who signed the new law in March, acknowledged that it would not take effect this year. "We'll continue our efforts for the next election and all future elections to make sure every registered voter has the proper identification in an effort to preserve the integrity of our voting process in Pennsylvania," he said.
Four states have had strict photo ID laws in place: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Five others, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, had similar laws scheduled to take effect this year, but all have now been halted.
"We are very glad voters will not be turned away from the polls this November if they do not have an ID," said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, one of several groups that sued to stop the Pennsylvania law. "The evidence made it clear to the judge that this would indeed disenfranchise voters."
States such as Virginia and New Hampshire implemented new voter identification laws this year with little fanfare — after winning approval from the Justice Department. The difference was that those states, unlike Pennsylvania, allow voters to submit one of many forms of identification. Florida and Ohio, two closely contested states, also have such laws.
By contrast, Pennsylvania adopted a much narrower ID requirement and sought to implement the measure in just a few months. And rather than open centers to help voters obtain government photo IDs, it told the many elderly, disabled and low-income citizens who do not drive that they must travel to a state motor vehicles office. They were also told to bring a birth certificate, a Social Security card and two other forms of identification.
State officials recently announced new steps to make it easier for voters to get the proper ID, but they came too late to satisfy the courts.
Two weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said it would accept "no voter disenfranchisement" under the new law. And citing that standard Tuesday, the judge said the photo ID requirement could not take effect this year.
Pennsylvania had once been seen as a battleground for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, but recent polls have shown the president with a substantial lead.