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Can GOP find votes in wreckage of Pennsylvania voter ID law?

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday reversed his earlier decision to let the state proceed with a tough new voter ID law in time for the 2012 election. The about-face could give the GOP some ammunition to rouse its base.

By Staff writer / October 2, 2012

On Sept. 26, a man heads into the the Penndot Drivers License Center in Butler, Pa., near a sign telling of the requirement for voters to show an acceptable photo ID to vote. A court on Tuesday invalidated that requirement for the 2012 election.

Keith Srakocic/AP/File

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Can the Republican Party turn a Pennsylvania court's decision to block a landmark voter ID law into a rallying cry to raise funds and rouse the GOP base to get out the vote in November?

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Until Tuesday's decision, Democrats were the ones primarily citing the voter ID law, which they oppose, in a bid to mobilize their forces. Groups such as the League of Women Voters and the NAACP claimed that Republicans had imposed a new voter ID requirement to try to disenfranchise key Democratic constituencies, such as minorities, the elderly, and the young – much as earlier generations had used Jim Crow rules to disenfranchise black voters. Had the law been allowed to take effect, some legitimate Pennsylvania voters might be turned away from the polls, they said.

But the question now is whether Republicans will seek to capitalize from the ruling by state Judge Robert Simpson, who on Tuesday reversed his earlier decision to allow the controversial law to take effect. It would be easy, some say, to argue that the reversal subverts the will of the people and the state legislature and increases chances of a Democratic victory in November.

The court decision “might be part of a broader narrative that Republicans are using to get out the vote, pointing out that the playing field is a little tougher now, that [Democrats] will have an advantage from this decision and [Republicans] have to counter it,” says Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pa.

Polls show that 2 in 3 Americans, and a majority of nearly all demographic subgroups, support voter ID laws. Republicans have already argued in fundraising appeals that Democrats and their proxies going to all lengths to undermine a bedrock American principle – that every vote should count equally – and now may add that courts appear to be taking their side.

“That’s where you have Republicans seeing this as an issue they can push, that having a photo ID handy is not a big deal for Mr. Middle Class Voter, and, secondly, the powerful appeal [of the idea that] … your vote should not be diluted by the votes of ineligible voters,” says Charles Franklin, a polling expert at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.

But most of the emotional energy in the national debate over voter ID laws has so far been concentrated on the Democratic side, pollsters say. Many Democratic activists are convinced that the spread of voter ID laws into 17 states is less an effort to sanctify the vote and more an effort to help Republicans win at the polls by by shutting out liberal voters.

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