HARRISBURG, PA. — A judge on Tuesday blocked Pennsylvania's divisive voter identification requirement from going into effect on Election Day, delivering a hard-fought victory to Democrats who said it was a ploy to defeat President Barack Obama and other opponents who said it would prevent the elderly and minorities from voting.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said in his ruling that he was concerned by the state's stumbling efforts to create a photo ID that is easily accessible to voters and that he could not rely on the assurances of government officials at this late date that every voter would be able to get a valid ID.
If it stands, it is good news for Obama's chances in Pennsylvania, one of the nation's biggest electoral college prizes, unless Republicans and the tea party groups that backed the law find a way to use it to motivate their supporters and possibly independents.
Simpson's ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court, although state officials weren't ready to say Tuesday whether they would appeal. He based his decision on guidelines given to him days ago by the high court justices, and it could easily be the final word on the law just five weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
Simpson's ruling will allow the law to go into full effect next year, though he could still decide later to issue a permanent injunction as part of the ongoing legal challenge to the law's constitutionality.
Election workers will still be allowed to ask voters for a valid photo ID, but people without it can use a regular voting machine in the polling place and would not have to cast a provisional ballot or prove their identity to election officials afterward.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called it a "win," but they quickly targeted a multimillion-dollar state ad campaign on TV, radio, billboards and elsewhere about the voter ID requirement. They said they would ask the state to promptly pull the ads or alter them to reflect the judge's ruling and suggested that they would go back to court if the state doesn't cooperate.