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US court blocks controversial voter ID law

03 october 2012, 18:59
In a win for President Barack Obama's Democrats, a judge in Pennsylvania ordered state officials Tuesday not to enforce a controversial voter ID law in the coming presidential election, AFP reports.

Mostly Republican backers portrayed the law, requiring voters to show photo identification at the polling station, as an anti-fraud measure. Democrats and civil rights groups said it could dissuade many traditional Democrat supporters, including the poorest and some non-whites, from casting ballots.

The ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson means that voters in the state who had been having difficulty getting identification in time likely will now be able to vote on November 6.

The ruling did not repeal the law and can still be appealed, but it effectively meant the measure was likely to be suspended at least until polling day.

Speaking on the WHYY talk show Radio Times, Secretary of State Carol Aichele, the Pennsylvania official charged with enforcing the law, said that voters would "be asked for ID, but it will not (be) required."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 US states have passed laws requiring identification at the polls, citing concerns about voter fraud or voting by non-citizens.

Critics say that in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare and that the most common fraud is found in the process of absentee ballots.

Civil rights groups also oppose the laws, which were mostly passed in Republican-controlled legislatures, saying they are designed to keep away poor, non-whites and the elderly -- all typical Democratic supporters.

Those concerns were heightened in Pennsylvania after the legislature's Republican leader, Mike Turzai, seemed to see the law as a direct boost for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

"Voter ID is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. Done," he said.

Several polls show Obama leading Romney in Pennsylvania, an important electoral state, but the race is expected to be tight.

Estimates vary as to the number of voters who would be unable to obtain identification, thereby eating into Obama's support. State officials said just one percent of voters would not be able to cast ballots, while opponents of the law said that figure could be as high as nine percent.

Simpson initially had declined to block the law but Pennsylvania's Supreme Court ordered him to review the law again to determine whether the state's efforts to issue identification were adequate.

He decided they were not, writing in his ruling: "I am still not 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."

Since the law came to the forefront, government offices that issue identification have seen long lines.

People are often denied photo identification because the names on their birth certificates don't match the names on their Social Security card, or because they failed to bring mail that provided a proof of address.

In other cases, voters could not obtain the documents required because they did not have enough money to pay fees for obtaining them.

"I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time," Simpson wrote. "For this reason, I accept (the) petitioners' argument that in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need will not be closed."

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