HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania voters won't have to show photo identification to cast ballots on Election Day, a judge said Tuesday in a ruling on the state's controversial voter ID law that could help President Barack Obama in a presidential battleground state.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson delayed Pennsylvania's voter ID requirement from taking effect this election, saying he wasn't sure the state had made it possible for voters to easily get IDs before Nov. 6.
"I am still not convinced ... that there will be no voter disenfranchisement" if the law took effect immediately, Simpson wrote.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who had championed the law, said he was leaning against an appeal of the decision, which was widely viewed to favor Obama in Pennsylvania, one of the nation's biggest Electoral College prizes. Obama has been leading in recent polls over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Pennsylvania's 6-month-old law, among the nation's toughest, has sparked a debate over voting rights ahead of the presidential election. About a dozen primarily Republican-controlled states have toughened voter ID laws since the 2008 presidential election. But states with the toughest rules going into effect — including Kansas and Tennessee — aren't battleground states, making their impact on the presidential election unclear.
One civil rights lawyer said the decision cemented the principle that a photo ID law can't disenfranchise voters. Opponents had said young adults, minorities, the elderly, poor and disabled would find it harder to cast ballots.
"The effect of the decision in Pennsylvania is not just theoretically, can voters get ID, but actually, can they get ID," said Jon M. Greenbaum, chief counsel of The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Simpson, a Republican first elected to the bench in 2001, based his decision on guidelines given to him two weeks ago by the state Supreme Court to determine whether the state had made photo IDs easily accessible.
He ruled after listening to two days of testimony about the state's efforts to ease requirements, as well as accounts of long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver's license centers.
On Nov. 6, 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 will not have to cast a provisional ballot or prove their identity to election officials afterward, the judge ruled.