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Judge Postpones Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law


A judge in Pennsylvania has blocked a key part of that state's new voter ID law, a law that's caused controversy. Now, come Election Day, voters showing up at the polls can still be asked to show a government-issued photo ID, but they will not be prevented from voting if they don't have one. NPR's Pam Fessler has been covering the story and she joins us now. Good morning.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So, remind us what this Pennsylvania law is - you know, why it's been making national news.

FESSLER: Well, the Pennsylvania Republican-controlled legislature enacted this law recently, as several other states have also done, that requires voters when they go to the polls to show some form of government-issued photo ID. And it's a fairly restrictive list of IDs, such as a driver's license, a state-issued photo ID, a passport. And the complaint was that were tens if not hundreds of thousands of voters in the state who were already registered but did not have that identification and would have a hard time getting it.

MONTAGNE: So what does the decision of this one judge in Pennsylvania mean?

FESSLER: Well, it's a big victory for all those groups that said that so many people would, in fact, be prevented from voting in November because they didn't have this ID. The state had been making a very big effort in recent months to try and get ID to people who didn't have it, but they were running into lots of problems; there were long lines at DMV offices, where people - that's the motor vehicle offices - where people had to go to get the ID. There was confusion over the rules. Some of the requirements had been changing in recent weeks.

So, many voters - and they were often elderly and the poor - were just having the trouble getting the documents. And the judge, Commonwealth Court judge Robert Simpson said in his ruling today that he wasn't convinced that there enough time before the election to get ID to all those who needed it, and that some voters, if fact, would be disenfranchised.

MONTAGNE: Although, the judge, it seems, only partially blocked this law from going into effect. Have I got that right?

FESSLER: Right. So, in effect, basically, what he said is that voters can still be asked to show a photo ID at the polls. But if they don't have it, they won't be blocked from voting. They can still cast a ballot. And this is in fact what the state did for the primary. It was kind of a test run of the new law and, basically, he's extending that test run through the November elections. The state's still going to be allowed to go forward with its outreach efforts and education efforts. Those are ads and, you know, posters that basically say you should show a photo ID at the polls. And some these civil rights groups that have been fighting this law say they have some concerns about that because they think that that might confuse voters. And there's still a possibility that this ruling could be appealed. We haven't heard anything yet.

MONTAGNE: Well, if it remains in effect, what impact do you think this will have on the November elections in Pennsylvania?

FESSLER: Well, quite frankly, I don't think it's going to actually have that much impact. First of all, the presidential election is - it's not really, actually that close in Pennsylvania, according to the polls, right now. Also, even though some voters might be discouraged from showing up if they don't have the ID - Democrats have actually using this as a fairly effective get-out-the-vote tool. People are, you know, trying to take away your right to vote, you really have to go out there and show them. So, I kind of think it's going to be a draw.

MONTAGNE: Pam, thanks very much.

FESSLER: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Pam Fessler.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.