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Pennsylvania Supreme Court casts doubt on voter ID law

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cast doubt Tuesday on whether that state can enforce its new photo ID law for the November election, as it told a trial judge to take a skeptical look at whether registered voters will be denied the right to cast a ballot.

The judge must assure “there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the ID requirement,” the state justices said.

The 4-2 decision is a tentative victory for voting rights advocates who have asserted the new requirement will prevent tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians from voting this year.

The two dissenting justices said they would have gone further and struck down the law immediately.

The Pennsylvania legislature, controlled by Republicans, adopted the new photo ID requirement earlier this year and said that only a current, government-issued photo ID with an expiration date would qualify. A driver’s license or valid U.S. passport would suffice.

But this summer, the state reported that more than 750,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania did not have an acceptable ID and could face the loss of their voting rights.

In response, the state said it would issue a new photo ID of its own and would make sure eligible voters were not barred from the polls.

On that basis, a trial judge refused to block the law last month. But in Tuesday’s decision, the state high court said it was not persuaded by the “assurances of government officials,” and it told the trial judge to consider again whether legal voters in Pennsylvania will be barred from voting if the new law takes effect.

“Today’s decision is a big step in the right direction,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which had sued to block the law.

Democrats had feared that poor and elderly voters, particularly in Philadelphia, could be blocked from voting if the new requirement were put into effect in November.

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