A Pennsylvania judge Tuesday blocked the key component of a contested state law requiring strict photographic identification to vote in next month's election, saying the authorities had not done enough to ensure that voters had access to the new documents.
The result is that Pennsylvanians will not have to present a state-approved ID to vote in November. The ruling was the latest and most significant in a series of legal victories for those opposed to laws that they charge would limit access to polls in this presidential election.
"Every voter restriction that has been challenged this year has been either enjoined, blocked or weakened," said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice, which is part of the New York University School of Law and opposes such restrictions. "It has been an extraordinary string of victories for those opposing these laws."
Voter ID laws have been taken off the table in Texas and Wisconsin. The Justice Department has blocked such a law in South Carolina. In Florida and Ohio, early voting and voter-registration drives have been largely restored. New Hampshire is going ahead with its law, but voters who do not have the required document will be permitted to vote and have a month to verify their identity.
Strict voter ID laws remain in Kansas, Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee, but they are not seen as battleground states.
The Pennsylvania judge who ruled Tuesday, Robert Simpson, had upheld the law in August when liberal-leaning and civil rights groups challenged it. But the state's Supreme Court instructed him two weeks ago to hold further hearings to focus on whether enough had been done to ensure "liberal access" to the picture ID cards, which are available at driver's license centers, or alternatives.
The decision could be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but few predicted victory for it, given what the justices had asked of the lower court.
The Pennsylvania law, passed in March without any Democratic support, is one of 11 similar laws approved by Republican-dominated legislatures. The laws' backers say they are trying to ensure the integrity of the electoral process by preventing fraud. But Democrats accuse them of seeking to suppress the votes of the poor and members of minority groups who tend to have neither the needed ID nor the means to go to state offices and obtain one and who tend to vote Democratic.