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DN Editorial: A victory in the voter-ID battle, but the war continues

IF PENNSYLVANIA'S new voter-ID law had been in effect last Tuesday, we can imagine that some people would be still in line today, waiting for their turn to vote.

IF PENNSYLVANIA'S new voter-ID law had been in effect last Tuesday, we can imagine that some people would be still in line today, waiting for their turn to vote.

Fortunately, the law was not in effect. Voters did not have to produce a photo ID before they could vote, thanks to a temporary injunction against enforcement of the law issued by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Oct. 2.

The key word above is "temporary." Simpson's order applied only to last week's election. It did nothing to change the status of this stinker of a law.

By now, it's widely accepted that the stated purpose of this law - to prevent voter fraud - was bogus. Even the state stipulated in court that it had found no evidence of any cases of fraud based on voter impersonation, the only type of fraud this law would stop.

The real intent of the Republican-led voter-ID movement, in this and other states, was to suppress voter turnout, especially among the poor and elderly - the folks who are least likely to have a PennDOT driver's licenses, but most likely to vote for Barack Obama.

About 800,000 registered voters in the state do not have driver's licenses, including 144,000 voters in Philadelphia. As of last week, only 16,000 voters statewide had obtained the free IDs offered by PennDOT since the spring, according to Vic Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union attorney in the voter-ID case.

(Meanwhile, according to star election calculator Nate Silver, about 460,000 fewer Pennsylvanians voted in Tuesday's election than in 2008. Still, some pundits say that the pushback against voter-ID efforts around the country ended up actually helping Obama win.)

Judge Simpson is due to hold a hearing on his injunction on Dec. 13. He has a number of options: he can keep the injunction in place; he can lift it, or he can hold another hearing on the case.

His Oct. 2 ruling was narrow. It did not deal with the merits of the law, only with the issue of whether or not the state was prepared to implement it in time for the November election. He ruled it was not. But Simpson has signaled he has no objection to the law itself. He sees it as a legitimate exercise of the Legislature's power to supervise elections.

To put it another way, in October the opponents of the law won a battle, but not the war.

And the fight must continue.

If Simpson lifts his injunction, opponents should take their case to the state Supreme Court and argue forcefully that this law violates the state Constitution's guarantee of access to the right to vote. It is not just a nightmare to enforce; it is discriminatory, the equivalent of setting up Jersey barriers around voting booths.

States across America are expanding access to voting - allowing early voting, permitting Election Day voter registration at the polls, encouraging mail-in ballots. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is busily setting up roadblocks to people exercising the defining right of a democracy.

The fight against voter ID is a fight worth pursuing. Let's hope the courts rise above partisanship and find the courage to strike down this toxic law.