A state judge has barred Pennsylvania from enforcing an unduly strict voter-ID law, at least for this election.
Unless conflicting evidence comes to light, voter-ID laws are a solution to a non-problem. It is an article of faith in the GOP that voter fraud is widespread, but an extensive investigation by the George W. Bush administration's Justice Department turned up only isolated cases -- certainly nothing that could be called pervasive.
Nonetheless, 11 Republican-controlled states including Pennsylvania have adopted ID laws despite protests that they could disproportionately affect minorities, the poor, the elderly and the handicapped -- by no coincidence, largely Democratic constituencies.
In Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson did not object to the concept of photo voter IDs. In fact, he upheld the law when it was challenged this summer. But on Tuesday, he blocked the law from going into effect until 2013, ruling, in effect, that the state's implementation of the law was too cumbersome, too slow and too close to the November election. In addition, according to the Associated Press in Harrisburg, Pa., he heard "accounts of long lines and ill-informed clerks at driver's license centers." As it stands now after Simpson's ruling, poll workers may ask voters to produce a valid ID, but if they don't have one they can still vote. Simpson will hold a hearing in December on whether to lift the injunction or make it permanent.
The judge wrote, fairly, that a voter-ID requirement is a "reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of voter ID in daily life." If photo IDs are made easily and readily accessible to people who do not have other forms of identification -- say, driver's licenses or passports -- it will be interesting to see if Republicans maintain their enthusiasm for such laws.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.