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Judge blocks Pennsylvania voter ID law

Updated at 11:10 a.m. ET -- A Pennsylvania judge has blocked enforcement of the key section of a voter identification law which the state legislature enacted and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed last March, meaning that the law will not be in effect for the Nov. 6 election.

Judge Robert Simpson said that even with the streamlined procedures that state officials proposed to make it easier for voters without ID cards to obtain them, “the proposed changes are to occur about five weeks before the general election, and I question whether sufficient time now remains to attain the goal of liberal access” to ID cards.

Pennsylvania's new strict requirements for a government-issued photo ID at the polls will not be in effect for the general election. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

He said, “I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time. 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.”

Those challenging the law included the Homeless Advocacy Project, the League of Women Voters and other groups.

Simpson ruled that those voters who cast provisional ballots will not be required to return to their county election board within six days of the election to show proof of identification.

Simpson’s ruling means that the photo ID requirement won’t be in effect for the Nov. 6 election, but it may be in effect for future elections. His decision did not strike down the entire law; in fact he rejected efforts by those challenging to law to stop state officials from educating voters about the voter ID requirement.

Simpson also said that those challenging the law have conceded that the part of the law which requires proof of identification for absentee voting does not harm would-be voters and may be implemented.

NBC's Pete Williams explains why the law won't go into full effect into next year.

According to a recent Franklin & Marshall poll, nearly three out of five registered Pennsylvania voters favor the photo identification requirement.

Although some Republicans had hopes this summer of making Pennsylvania competitive in the presidential race, recent polling shows GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney between 7 and 12 percentage points behind President Barack Obama in the state.

Pennsylvania also has a Senate race this year, but Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is 12 points ahead of Republican challenger Tom Smith, according to that Franklin & Marshall poll.

Special report: Voting rights in America

State Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason said in August that no matter what the courts ruled, voters in the state think they need a form of identification, so the law will have an effect. Gleason said, “Enough has been said; everybody’s heard about it. No matter what they (the courts) decide now, people think you’ve got to have it.”

Even in the wake of Simpson’s injunction, opponents of the law still contend that it is deeply flawed.

“While we’re happy that voters in Pennsylvania will not be turned away if they do not have an ID, we are concerned that the ruling will allow election workers to ask for ID at the polls and this could cause confusion,” said Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, an advocacy group opposed to the law. “This injunction serves as a mere Band-Aid for law’s inherent problems, not an effective remedy.”

An initial assessment by Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele’s office found that 91 percent of the state’s 8.2 million registered voters have Pennsylvania Department of Transportation-issued licenses which are acceptable ID for voting.

It also reported that names of nearly 760,000 voters couldn’t be matched between the state’s voter list and the driver’s license database. But some of those non-matching names were merely name mismatches of the same person between one database and another.

The law also says other forms of ID are acceptable, such as military ID cards, U.S. passports, identification cards from accredited Pennsylvania colleges or universities or state senior care facilities, or other photo identification cards issued by the federal, Pennsylvania, county or municipal governments.