HARRISBURG -- A judge has blocked the state from discounting ballots cast next month by voters who lack the photo identification required under the new voter ID law.
Voters will be asked for their identification at the polls, but will vote by normal procedures and their vote will count regardless of whether they have an ID, according to officials on both sides of the case.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson wrote in an order released this morning that the injunction would have the effect of extending the transition period of the law -- when voters were asked for identification but could vote without it -- through the November election. His order allows election workers to ask voters next month to show identification but not to bar people from voting without one.
In a written statement issued this afternoon, Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, lauded Judge Simpson's decision for holding constitutional the basic structure of a voter ID law.
"While we believe we have made it possible for every registered voter who needs voter identification to obtain one, we'll continue our efforts for the next election and all future elections, to make sure every registered voter has the proper identification in an effort to preserve the integrity of our voting process in Pennsylvania," the governor said in his statement.
Later, he told reporters during a press conference he has not decided if the state will appeal the ruling, but he implied it might not.
He said the ruling was consistent with the state's suggestion to the court that a "soft roll-out" continue at the November election:
"As it comes to a preliminary injunction, no final decision has been made, but you can see where we're probably leaning," he said.
His spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor was referring to a decision not to appeal.
As signed into law in March, the voter ID requirements calls for voters without acceptable identification to cast provisional ballots that would count if they verify their identity within six days.
The judge also ruled that the state cannot require voters to seek identification from the Department of Transportation before pursuing the less rigorous Department of State identification. State officials announced last week they would allow voters to bypass applying for the PennDOT ID.
After a hearing this summer, Judge Simpson declined to stop the law, which opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, argued would disenfranchise many rightful voters. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month returned the case to Commonwealth Court with orders to stop the law if it would prevent legitimate votes from counting.
In the order today, the judge said he had expected the state to have issued more voter IDs.
"For this reason, I accept 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," he wrote.
In an interview with WHYY public radio in Philadelphia, Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the ruling was good news because it meant votes would count with or without photo identification.
But he noted the court had declined to stop the state campaign advertising the law.
"What raises concerns is whether your average voter is going to understand what's really going on here," he said. "If they continue to run that without telling people there is no longer an ID requirement, is that going to discourage people who don't have ID from going to the polls?"
Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason issued a written statement saying the ruling "disappointed" him.
"We shouldn't have to wait for this commonsense reform to be enacted," he said. "With that being said, Voter ID is still Pennsylvania law, was found to be constitutional and we will work to encourage voters to bring their photo identification with them to the polls."
Saying the law would help prevent voter fraud, Republicans had passed the voter ID measure through the Legislature over opposition from Democrats.
Over the years, prosecutors in Allegheny County have gone after cases involving forged absentee ballots and bogus voter registration.
But as far as someone trying to vote under a false name?
"To our recollection we've never had a case where someone came in under a false name in trying to vote," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said today in in response to the ruling. "At least in this county, the issue that the legislation's intended to address has not manifested in terms of a prosecution."
Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the ruling allows state to require photo identification in future elections.
"It's unfortunate that it took going to the Supreme Court for the critics to acknowledge the constitutionality of requiring identification for voters," he said. "Ultimately, that's what's going to happen. Voter integrity was never about just one election."
A spokesman for the attorney general, whose office defended the law, said lawyers are reviewing the decision.
A spokesman for the Department of State, which oversees elections, said the agency will continue its education campaign with any revisions necessitated by the ruling.
"We'll continue with our education program and make the tweaks we need to to make sure every voter is fully aware and understands what is going to occur on Election Day," spokesman Matthew Keeler said.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141. Harrisburgh Bureau Chief Laura Olson contributed. First Published October 2, 2012 2:00 PM