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Pennsylvania Voter-Identification Law Barred by Judge

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Pennsylvania can’t enforce a law backed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett that requires voters to show photo identification at polls because it unreasonably burdens the poor and elderly, a judge ruled.

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley blocked the law’s enforcement in a final ruling issued today in Harrisburg, the state capital. His decision may be appealed to the state’s highest court.

“It does not pass constitutional muster because there is no legal, non-burdensome provision of a compliant photo ID for all qualified electors,” McGinley wrote. “Further, our Supreme Court held the provision of photo ID must ‘comport with liberal access.’ The voter ID law lacks this requisite mechanism.”

Pennsylvania’s law, enacted in March 2012, was one of 11 passed in Republican-controlled states that required voters to show state-issued IDs before casting valid ballots, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Supporters argued the laws were needed to prevent voter fraud. Opponents claimed the measures were intended to suppress the votes of lower-income people and the elderly, who may be more inclined to vote for Democrats.

‘Monumental Victory’

“This ruling is a monumental victory for those who believe that in a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all people,” Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, an advocacy group that challenged the law, said in an e-mailed statement. “Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania citizens who lack one of the limited forms of acceptable photo ID can now cast their ballots without burdensome obstacles.”

State officials are reviewing the decision, General Counsel James Schultz said in an e-mailed statement.

“We continue to evaluate the opinion and will shortly determine whether post-trial motions are appropriate,” he said.

More than 400,000 people would have been barred from voting under the requirement, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to block the law in May 2012.

McGinley and another judge, Robert Simpson, had blocked the Pennsylvania law since the 2012 general election. Today’s decision bars enforcement of the ID requirement. Other provisions of the law, including those governing absentee ballots, will remain in effect, McGinley ruled.

Including Pennsylvania, 19 states have passed laws requiring or requesting that voters present some kind of photo ID. Only two adopted voter-ID laws before 2008.

The measures are being challenged in courts in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina. In November, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said it would review that state’s voter ID law after lower courts split on the consitutionality of the 2011 legislation.

The case is Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 330-MD-2012, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

To contact the reporter on this story: Sophia Pearson in federal court in Philadelphia at spearson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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