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Pa. high court sends voter ID law back to lower court for review

Today's Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on a challenge to the state's strict new voter ID law amounts to this message to the state: either prove that voters can easily get a new photo ID card or face the near-certain prospect that the state Supreme Court will block it from going into effect.

A state court judge in Pennsylvania ruled last month against a group of challengers to the new law, citing insufficient proof that it would disenfranchise minority voters. The challengers immediately appealed, and now the state's Supreme Court has overturned the lower court ruling, sending the case back to the judge with instructions to figure out what the practical implications of the law will actually be.

Here's the rub. The Pennsylvania legislature, in requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, intended to make it easy for residents without a drivers license to get a voter ID card by showing only a minimal amount of identification when they apply for one. But the state agencies responsible for issuing voter ID cards are instead insisting on more rigorous proof of identity than the new law requires. 

Katherine Culliton Gonzales of the Advancement Project explains why the Pennsylvania voter ID case has been sent back to lower court.

The agencies are demanding that applicants produce a birth certificate stamped with a raised seal, a Social Security card, and two other forms of identification showing the current residence. The state agencies say if they give the cards out on the more relaxed basis spelled out in the new voter ID law, that would create a homeland security problem, because the cards can be used to board aircraft.  

So today, the state Supreme Court instructed the judge to take another crack at this case and determine whether the state will actually make it difficult to get one of these ID cards.

Until then, the law remains in effect. But the court made it clear today that unless the state can demonstrate that the voter ID cards can be obtained in the more relaxed manner spelled out in the new law, then the court would almost certainly block the voter ID law before the general election in November.