HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state judge has refused to block a new Pennsylvania law that requires voters to display a current government-issued photo identification at the polls, upholding a Republican-backed law that Democrats say may prevent tens of thousands of low-income and elderly voters from casting ballots.
The decision is a setback for voting-rights advocates, who sued on behalf of a dozen, mostly elderly voters who do not drive and do not have an ID card that will allow them to vote.
But Judge Robert Simpson, who held a trial on the issue, said he was not convinced the photo ID rule will prove an insurmountable barrier for many voters, and added he was reluctant to strike down a law passed by the Legislature.
He also said the state was taking steps this summer to help voters obtain the required identification.
"I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disfranchised by Act 18," he wrote, citing the law's legislative title. Voters who cannot obtain a photo ID may be able to cast an absentee or provisional ballot, he said.
Simpson's opinion relied heavily on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar photo ID law in Indiana four years ago. But the Pennsylvania case differed because the challengers brought forth actual plaintiffs who were longtime voters and who said they were unable to obtain the proper ID required for voting.
Prior to the trial, the state's lawyers conceded they were "not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania" and agreed it was not "likely to occur in November of 2012" even if the law were put on hold.
The lawyers who brought the legal challenge said they would appeal, but they face an uphill fight. The state Supreme Court is equally divided between Republican and Democratic judges, and a tie vote would affirm the trial judge's ruling.