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Voting Wars: PA Voter ID Law May Be Tossed, But Rove's Donors Stay Secret

Two court rulings in the election law world, one possibly helping Democrats and definitely helping the GOP.

Tuesday has bought good and bad news in the election law world. In the good news department, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has told a lower court to reconsider its decision upholding that state’s new draconian voter ID law, paying attention to voter suppression. That is a voting rights victory, although the final chapter in that swing state’s voter ID war is not yet written.

In the bad news department, a federal appeals court in Washington has ruled that 2012’s most secretive political organizations—run by the likes of Karl Rove—do not have to reveal the multi-million dollar donors, rejecting a public-interest lawsuit that sought to pry open the door to disclosure. That ruling almost certainly will help the GOP fund more negative ads as the Romney campaign teeters.

Good News: Pennsylvania Voter ID Law May Be Suspended

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent a controversial lawsuit over the swing state's strict new voter ID law back to a lower court in Tuesday, telling it to take another look at impediments that voting rights activists have said may block hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters from getting a ballot in November.

Tuesday's ruling is a temporary victory for voting rights advocates, who sued the state and had argued that the preparations by Pennsylvania's state government to issue hundreds of thousands of new state ID cards--primarily to people who did not have driver's licenses in the state's cities and on college campuses--was flawed, clumsy and would interfere with the right to vote.

In its ruling, the state's Supreme Court agreed with this argument, telling a lower Commonwealth Court to take a second look at the state's preparations for issuing the newly required voter ID cards, and instructing it to pay closer attention to voting rights and issue a new ruling by Oct 2. 

"We think the Commonwealth Court will have trouble [upholding the voter ID law for November] no matter what, given the high standard that the [state] Supreme Court has imposed," said David Gersh, of one the attorneys working on the ACLU-PA suit.

The fight over Pennsylvania's new voter ID law is not over, but this is a big reversal for the state's GOP, which recently passed the ID law, or Act 18, and where party leaders then bragged that it would help Romney to win the state in November.  

Here are key excerpts from the ruling, affirming the right to vote and sending the case back to the lower court:

"Overall, we are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect within a relatively short timeframe and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless in light of the serious operational constraints faced by the executive branch. Given this state of affairs, we are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though we have no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.

"Thus, we will return the matter to the Commonwealth Court to make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available. In this regard, the court is to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards. If they do not, or if the Commonwealth Court is not still convinced in its predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election, that court is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction.

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