A controversial voter ID law implemented in Pennsylvania earlier this year that required a state-issued photo identification card before people could cast their ballot has been blocked by a judge only five weeks before Election Day.
The ruling is cited as a victory by the Obama administration that through the Department of Justice has fought the law in several states including Pennsylvania.
After two days of testimony, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson made his decision, saying, "The gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed."
"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."
While the judge ordered the state not to enforce the law for this year's Nov. 6 election, the law will go into effect next year.
But the ruling and the law may not be crystal clear. Election workers will still be allowed to ask voters for the ID, but voters that do not produce one will still be allowed to vote on regular voting machines and will not have to prove their identify after casting the vote.
The six month-old law has already endured some legal battles. Simpson heard testimony from the plaintiffs in mid-August. However, Simpson refused to grant an injunction at the time. An attorney for the ACLU promised to continue the fight and appeal the judge's decision.
"We're not done, it's not over," ACLU lawyer Witold Walczak told reporters in August.
Passage of the law was a great concern for Democrats who historically rely on large blocks of inner-city minority voters, much like those found in Philadelphia. On the other hand, Republicans are concerned about voter fraud that is sometimes found in large metropolitan areas or in states where removing deceased and inactive voters from election rolls can sometimes take several years' cycles.
Republicans also argued that obtaining a state-issued ID would be no problem because eligible voters could request one at no charge. But in the August trial, 93-year old Vivian Applewhite testified that obtaining an ID might prove difficult because she had been married several times and that she could not produce a marriage license or birth certificate, although there was no evidence she had been denied an ID by state officials.
Last month, a poll showed that nearly two-thirds of likely voters support a law requiring voters to produce a valid, state-issued ID before voting. Interestingly, 85 percent of Republicans supported the law, as did 51 percent of Democrats surveyed. Only 31 percent of black voters supported the law.
Nonetheless, the ruling could still be appealed to the state Supreme Court before Election Day. The U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld Indiana and Georgia's state Supreme Court ruling. However, a federal appeals court panel struck down the Texas voter ID law and a state court has blocked Wisconsin's law for this cycle. Justice Department officials are reviewing the South Carolina law and approved New Hampshire's earlier this year.
Pennsylvania officials say they are still committed to making photo IDs easy to obtain.