HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s highest court on Tuesday told a lower court that it should stop a tough new voter photo identification law from taking effect in this year’s presidential election if the judge concludes voters cannot easily get ID cards or thinks they will be disenfranchised.
The 4-2 decision by the state Supreme Court sends the case back to the lower Commonwealth Court, where a judge initially ruled in August that the divisive law could go forward.
The high court asked for an opinion by Oct. 2 — just 35 days before the election.
If the judge finds there will be no voter disenfranchisement and that IDs are easily obtained, then the 6-month-old law can stand, the Supreme Court said.
But the Supreme Court’s directions to the lower court set a much tougher standard than the one Judge Robert Simpson used when he rejected the plaintiffs’ request to halt the law, said David Gersch, the challengers’ lead lawyer.
‘‘It’s certainly a very positive step in the right direction in that the court recognizes that the state does not make adequate provision for people to get the ID that they would need to vote,’’ Gersch said. ‘‘In addition, there is a practical problem with getting the ID to people in the short time available.’’
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees voting and elections, said the agency will provide whatever information a judge may seek.
‘‘We believe, as we have all along, that any legal voter who wants to get an ID is able to do so,’’ spokesman Ron Ruman said.
The Republican-penned ID law passed over the objections of Democrats and ignited a furious debate over voting rights, making it a high-profile issue in the contest for the state’s prized 20 electoral votes between President Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Republicans, long suspicious of ballot-box stuffing in the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, say the law would deter election fraud. But Democrats pointed to a blank trail of evidence of such fraud, and charged that Republicans are trying to steal the White House by making it harder for the elderly, disabled, minorities, the poor, and college students to vote.
The law — among the nation’s toughest — has inspired protests, warnings of Election Day chaos and voter education drives.
It was already a political lightning rod when a top state Republican lawmaker boasted to a GOP dinner in June that the ID requirement ‘‘is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.’’
Ryan says ticket won’t foster dependence on government
DOVER, N.H. — Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan told New Hampshire supporters Tuesday that he and running mate Mitt Romney will put Americans back to work rather than encourage their dependency on government.
Ryan spoke in Dover a day after the release of a hidden camera video in which Romney claims that 47 percent of Americans ‘‘believe they are victims’’ entitled to help from the government.
Ryan did not mention the video, but he continued to emphasize the same theme, saying limited government and free enterprise has done more to help the poor and ‘‘uplift people out of lives of dependency’’ than any other system.
‘‘We’re worried about more and more people becoming dependent on the government than upon themselves, because by promoting more dependence, by not having jobs and economic events, people miss their potential,’’ he said.
Ryan, who initially touted the ‘‘Ryan-Romney plan’’ before switching the order of the names, said that while the Republican ticket believes in a safety net to help those who truly cannot help themselves, the success of programs such as food stamps should be measured in terms of how many people are transitioned off the programs rather than enrollment figures.
Ruling reversed on funding for election ads
WASHINGTON — An Appeals Court on Tuesday reversed a lower court ruling that could have led to greater disclosure of who is paying for certain election ads.
In March, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the Federal Election Commission overstepped its bounds in allowing groups that fund certain election ads to keep their financiers anonymous.
But Tuesday’s unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sent the case back to Jackson, with instructions to refer the matter to the FEC for further consideration. At issue are electioneering communications — ads that do not expressly advocate voting for or against a candidate running for federal office.
In 2007, the FEC ruled only contributors whose donations were ‘‘made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications’’ had to be identified; those who gave unrestricted money did not have to be identified. The FEC rule came in response to a Supreme Court ruling that gave more latitude to nonprofit groups on preelection ads.