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Voter ID law backed by Republicans faces legal test in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices on Thursday will examine the state's voter ID law, which was touted by a top state Republican as allowing Mitt Romney 'to win the state.' 

By Staff writer / September 13, 2012

Horacio Johnson of Philadelphia listens to speakers at the NAACP Voter ID rally in front of the Pennsylvania State Capitol July 24 in Harrisburg, Pa.

John C. Whitehead/The Patriot-News/AP/File

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Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law comes under close examination Thursday at the state’s Supreme Court, where the justices must decide whether a lower court judge acted properly by allowing the controversial measure to take full effect for the November elections.

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The voter ID issue has become a flashpoint in a series of legal battles being waged in state and federal courts across the country in what could be swing states in the presidential election.

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law argue that it will potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and elderly voters who lack the necessary government-issued photo identification.

Supporters say the ID requirement is designed to help deter voter fraud and bolster confidence in the election process. It is no more onerous than having to show ID to board an airplane or cash a check, they say.

The case is further clouded by comments reportedly made by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, that the new ID law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Democrats cite the comment as proof that the Republican-backed measure is a partisan attempt to suppress the votes of residents likely to cast ballots for President Obama and other Democrats.

Pennsylvania is one of several states where Republican-controlled legislatures adopted voter ID laws after the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a similar Indiana ID law in 2008.

According to polls, most Americans support the idea of requiring voters to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. A Washington Post poll in July found that 74 percent of US voters agreed with the voter ID requirement. Twenty-three percent objected.

In April, Rasmussen Reports found that 70 percent of likely US voters approved of the photo ID requirement, while 22 percent were opposed.

Nonetheless, not all ID laws have fared well. Two state judges have blocked a voter ID law in Wisconsin, and the Justice Department sued to block ID requirements in South Carolina and Texas.

A three-judge federal panel ruled two weeks ago that the Texas voter ID statute discriminated against prospective voters who are elderly and low-income. That decision is being appealed. The South Carolina challenge is set to be argued before a three-judge panel in Washington later this month.

The Justice Department is also considering whether to file its own challenge to the Pennsylvania law.

The voter ID issue is one of several legal disputes swirling around the approaching presidential election. With the contest expected to be tight to the end, lawyers are poised to challenge any provision that might have an impact on who wins.

Oral argument in the Pennsylvania ID case is set to be heard Thursday morning in Philadelphia by six of the Pennsylvania high court’s seven justices. The politically sensitive case could test the ideological balance of the court, which is comprised of three Democrats and four Republicans.

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