updated 10/20/2006 10:14:21 PM ET 2006-10-21T02:14:21

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that Arizona may require voters to provide photo IDs when they cast their ballots next month.

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The justices cautioned that they were not issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of Arizona’s law. “As we have noted, the facts in these cases are hotly contested,” the court said in an unsigned five-page order.

The ruling merely allows the Nov. 7 election to proceed with the photo ID law in place. Federal courts still will have to resolve a lawsuit contending that the law will disenfranchise numerous voters, particularly the elderly and minorities.

“This decision eliminates all confusion about what rules will be followed for the Nov. 7 general election,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said.

Courts in Georgia and Missouri have blocked similar laws.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in a brief concurring opinion, said the high court’s action makes it more likely that the constitutional issues “will be resolved correctly on the basis of historical facts rather than speculation.”

State argues measure will cut down on fraud
The law requires voters to prove citizenship when registering to vote and to show photo IDs when they go to the polls. The law was meant to make sure illegal immigrants weren’t casting ballots.

Opponents of the law contend it discourages some people from voting, including the elderly, poor and disadvantaged who don’t always carry IDs. Nina Perales, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the ruling “means many voters will be turned away from the polls on election day” because they lack the required ID.

Arizona residents, Indian tribes and community groups filed suit in May.

A federal judge ruled the state could enforce the law. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later blocked it from taking effect for the Nov. 7 election.

In his bid to allow the state to go forward, Goddard told the justices that “voter registration at the polls is an emerging issue of national importance. States have a compelling interest in curbing fraud and protecting the integrity of elections.”

Voters without proper ID may cast provisional ballots and furnish identification within five business days of the election.

Lacking photo identification, voters still can cast ballots during the state’s early voting period. State officials said there is ample time to compare signatures on the ballot with those on registration rolls.

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