As you were: A judge rightly delays the voter ID law

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Registered Pennsylvania voters should be able to cast ballots in next month's election unimpeded, thanks to a ruling Tuesday by the same state Commonwealth Court judge who upheld the state's new voter ID law just seven weeks ago.

It's not what Judge Robert Simpson initially ruled, and it's not what state Republican leaders were hoping for when they enacted the law requiring qualified electors to produce state-issued photo IDs before stepping up to voting machines. But the ruling was the only way to ensure that qualified citizens won't be improperly barred from voting on Nov. 6.

Estimates of the number of registered state voters without valid IDs ranged from as few as 1 percent to nearly 9 percent. Given those figures, the judge said he had expected the state to issue more IDs than the estimated 10,850 that were handed out since March. He said that gap couldn't be closed in time for the next election.

Unless the Corbett administration appeals his order, which seems unlikely, the same procedures that were in place during the spring primary will be in effect next month. Poll workers may ask potential voters to show their IDs, but, if they don't have any, they'll be able to vote normally. As was true before the law was passed, first-time voters and those using a polling place for the first time must present ID.

The judge's ruling doesn't eliminate all confusion for the upcoming election. The state is permitted to continue its educational campaign aimed at explaining the new law. The mixed message could prove puzzling for the electorate and for poll workers.

The judge rejected the notion that simply asking voters for IDs in and of itself is an infringement on their rights, which is why election officials can request them.

He also commended the state for streamlining procedures for obtaining valid IDs and for its outreach campaign. He said they put the state in a better position "going forward," presumably when implementing the law for future elections.

The judge still must determine whether to issue a permanent injunction against the new law, a ruling that seems unlikely given the wording of his opinion, and one that won't come for months at the earliest.

In this case, justice delayed is justice delivered -- at least for the upcoming election.

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