Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson ruled Tuesday that voters will not be required to show photo identification at the polls this November, but election officials may still ask.


The judge's ruling essentially extends the transition period for Pennsylvania's tough voter ID law, letting officials ask for identification but prohibiting them from tossing provisional ballots if the voter didn't present documentation.

The law threatened to disenfranchise over 1.6 million Pennsylvanians, including up to 43 percent of Philadelphia voters, who lack the proper identification. Republican proponents of the law said that would not be a problem because the state offers a free photo ID for voters who provide their name, address, date of birth and Social Security number.

However, Judge Simpson found that their predictions were overblown, noting that the state has issued fewer than 10,000 IDs for voting. "I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time," he explained in his ruling (PDF). "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."

Pennsylvania is one of five states with a strict photo ID law for voters, and one of 31 states that have restricted access to voting in recent years. The Brennan Center for Justice warned last year that the new laws could block more than 5 million ballots from being counted or cast in the 2012 presidential election.

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