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.
The decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on the law requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
However, Simpson 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 ordered the state not to enforce the photo ID requirement in this year's presidential election but will allow it to go into full effect next year.
One lawyer for the plaintiffs said it appeared to be a "win." Election workers will still be allowed to ask voters for a valid photo ID, but people without it can vote on a regular voting machine in the polling place and would not have to cast a provisional ballot or prove their identity to election officials after the election.
His ruling came after listening to two days of testimony about the state's eleventh-hour efforts to make it easier to get a valid photo ID. He also heard about long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver's license centers and identification requirements that made it hard for some registered voters to get a state-issued photo ID.
The 6-month-old law — now among the nation's toughest — has sparked a divisive debate over voting rights and become a high-profile political issue in the contest between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, for Pennsylvania's prized 20 electoral votes.