Pa. voter ID ruling mirrors trend across U.S.

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HARRISBURG -- With Pennsylvania's latest upheaval over what voters must take to the polls next month, the state joins a series of battles across the country where opponents of photo ID laws have seen success for the current election cycle.

Challengers have garnered temporary victories against photo ID laws here, as well as in Texas and Wisconsin. Federal officials also halted laws in Mississippi, and likely South Carolina, from going into effect this year.

While a weak lawsuit against Tennessee's tough ID law was tossed aside and a stringent ID card referendum still awaits Minnesota voters, opponents note that the ballot measure in Minnesota only drew support from 52 percent of respondents in a recent poll.

"In most cases, the challengers aren't losing; they've generally been successful," said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been critical of voter ID laws.

Rejection of those laws has been seen at both the state and federal level. The U.S. Department of Justice, which also has been reviewing Pennsylvania's 6-month-old ID law, denied approval of Texas' strict photo ID but did give a green light to a less-stringent version in Virginia.

A federal trial wrapped up on Monday over whether South Carolina, which like Texas and Virginia requires preclearance from Washington officials, can implement its voter identification law. It's unclear whether approval may be granted to South Carolina in time for balloting.

For Wisconsin and now Pennsylvania, a halt to the new statutes has come instead at the state level. In Wisconsin, two state judges issued injunctions halting the law from going into effect for the current election, although an appeal to a decision that the voter ID requirement is unconstitutional is still pending.

That scenario may sound familiar to Pennsylvanians: while Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that all voters can cast a ballot regardless of whether they possess photo ID this year, he did not yet rule on whether that means the law as a whole is unconstitutional.

University of California-Irvine professor Rick Hasen, who tracks election law issues, said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices appeared to indicate in their recent opinion that they likely would rule the law is constitutional -- an outcome he expects in Wisconsin as well.

"So this is a short-term victory in that the ID law won't be in place in 2012, but it likely will be in 2014," Mr. Hasen said.

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Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: or 1-717-787-4254.


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