Pennsylvania’s voter ID law under scrutiny


The Justice Department has opened an inquiry to determine whether Pennsylvania’s new voter identification law could potentially disfranchise elderly, disabled, indigent, and non-white voters in November’s election. 

In a letter to Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez requested the state’s complete voter registration list, the state’s driver’s license and personal identification card list, and any records supporting Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s claim that “99% of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs”. The state is given 30 days to comply with the Justice Department’s request.]

Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai. SOURCE: Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus

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In March, the state legislature passed House Bill 934, which will require all voters to show a valid photo ID containing an expiration date, such as a state driver’s license, state-issued photo ID, U.S. passport, military ID, college ID, or personal care home ID, at the polls.

The Secretary of State reported that more than 750,000 – or 9% – of the state’s registered voters lack the state-issued photo IDs they need to vote. In addition, many college and military IDs lack expiration date so it’s not clear whether those IDs will be considered valid on election day. The Justice Department is examining whether the state’s photo ID requirement will disproportionately impact certain populations in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

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Pennsylvania is one of several key election states – including Texas and South Carolina – that have enacted voter ID laws requiring photographic proof of identity to cast a ballot in 2012.

Last month, Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai bragged that the voter ID law is “gonna allow Governor [Mitt] Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”.

Civil rights groups have criticized the law for making it more cumbersome for veterans, students, African-American, and elderly voters to cast their ballots. The voter ID law could be interpreted as a legal maneuver to repress votes of demographic groups that have traditionally supported Democratic candidates, which, if true, would give Republicans an unwarranted advantage on Election Day.

Both political parties have a lot at stake in Pennsylvania: the state holds 20 electoral votes and is considered one of the swing states up for grabs in the Presidential election.

No record of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania

Although state officials claimed the voter ID law would prevent in-person voter fraud, they were forced admit in court documents earlier this month that there have not been “any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania”.

“There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” state officials conceded. “[The state] will not offer any evidence…that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred Pennsylvania or elsewhere…[The state] will not offer any evidence or argument that in person [sic] voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”

The state’s admissions were prompted by a civil lawsuit, Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union to prevent Pennsylvania’s voter ID law from taking effect in November. The trial began on July 25 and is expected to wrap up by Aug. 2.

The lawsuit alleged that H.B. 934 will deprive Pennsylvania’s citizens their constitutional right to vote by imposing additional burdens that could impede or discourage people from voting.

“Unless the Court acts to block the enforcement of the new photo ID requirement, many of Pennsylvania’s good citizens will have this most precious right unduly burdened and, in many cases, effectively denied,” according to the ACLU’s complaint.

Voter ID law will force voters to jump through time-consuming bureaucratic hoops or risk being denied their right to vote

Although H.B. 934 does allow voters to obtain driver’s license or state-issued photo ID free of charge, the requirements for obtaining the state IDs are quite stringent.

For example, in order to receive a driver’s license in Pennsylvania, an applicant will have to undergo a medical examination and have a doctor certify that he or she does not suffer from neurological, neuropsychiatric, circulatory, or cardiac disorders; hypertension, uncontrolled epilepsy, uncontrolled diabetes, cognitive impairments, alcohol or drug abuse; or amputation of a limb. The applicant would be responsible for paying the insurance co-pay or the full cost of the doctor’s visit to satisfy this requirement.

In addition, the applicant must submit – along with a Social Security card – a birth certificate, an unexpired U.S. passport, a Certificate of U.S. Citizenship, or a Certificate of Naturalization to prove their U.S. citizenship, and all of the aforementioned documents must bear the same exact name and date of birth in order to be considered valid by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. For some older U.S.-born citizens, obtaining a birth certificate is impossible because of missing paperwork or they were not born in hospitals because they could not afford medical fees or lived in rural areas where hospital access was extremely difficult. Even if they are able to locate their birth certificates, the fees could be too costly for many voters with a fixed-income. For naturalized U.S. citizens, the cost of obtaining a Certificate of U.S. Citizenship or Naturalization is $345. The cost of obtaining a valid U.S. passport is at least $110.

Furthermore, the applicant must provide two proofs of residency, such as current utility bills (excluding cell phone bills), lease agreements, tax records, W-2 forms, or mortgage documents. So college students sharing an apartment or grandmothers living with their children who are not employed and whose name are not on a lease agreement, utility bill, or mortgage document will not be able to prove their state residency.

Except for the medical examination, the same citizenship and state residency verification documents are required to obtain a state-issued photo ID. As with the driver’s license, the state photo ID applications must be submitted in person, which could pose significant hardship for frail, elderly, and disabled voters.


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