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Judge blocks Pennsylvania voter ID law ahead of election

 

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday blocked the state from enforcing its strict voter ID law before the presidential election, citing "disenfranchisement" concerns. The ruling in a vital battleground state comes five weeks before the election. 

The ruling, which could still be appealed, followed two days of testimony about the state's efforts to make it easier to get a valid photo ID, as well as possible hurdles for those seeking proper identification. 

The challenge to the six-month-old law is one of several across the country to laws -- largely backed by Republican legislators -- requiring voters to show photo identification. 

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Republicans say the laws are necessary to prevent election fraud. But Democrats, who in Pennsylvania joined up with the AARP and NAACP in opposition, claim residents could be blocked from exercising their right to vote. 

Judge Robert Simpson said in his opinion Tuesday he anticipates that by Election Day, "the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed." 

He added: "Consequently, I am not still convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth's implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election." 

The ruling blocks the law before November, but would still allow it to go into effect next year. 

Shannon Royer, the state's deputy secretary of state, said officials are "reviewing all legal options" but said the state is "pleased" the law itself was upheld. 

"Under today's ruling, voter ID will be implemented on a different timeframe. This November, all voters will be asked to show photo ID when they vote, though it will not be required," she said in a statement. 

Royer also pointed out the judge did not ruled the law to be unconstitutional.

The law was already a partisan lightning rod when a top Republican lawmaker boasted over the summer that it would allow Republican nominee Mitt Romney to beat Democratic President Obama in Pennsylvania. 

Republicans, long suspicious of ballot-box stuffing in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, justified the law as a protection against potential election fraud. 

Critics claim it could suppress minority turnout. 

The plaintiffs -- a group of registered voters, plus the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP -- had sought to block the law from taking effect in this year's election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality. 

The judge's decision Tuesday could be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but it could easily be the final word on the law before the Nov. 6 election. 

The constitutionality of the law was not a question before the judge. 

Other states face similar debates over voting. 

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, and Georgia's top court upheld that state's voter ID law. But a federal panel struck down Texas' voter ID law, and the state court in Wisconsin has blocked its voter ID laws for now. The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law earlier this year. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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