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Pa.’s Voter ID Law: What’s the Big Deal?

Here’s a guide to everything you ever wanted to know about Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law.

Pennsylvania passed a law in March requiring all registered voters to show a valid and “acceptable” photo ID before voting. This is one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. Voter advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, challenged the new requirement and closed their arguments in Commonwealth Court Thursday.

Across the country, 30 states have enacted some type of voter ID reform and it has become a hot button issue in an election year. Pennsylvania is no exception. Supporters say the laws prevent voter fraud; critics say the laws are a political tricks to disenfranchise voters.

Here is a guide to the debate:

What’s the Purpose of the Law?

According to proponents of the law, including State Sen. Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th District) who introduced the Pennsylvania bill, the law is meant to prevent voter fraud.

Who Does it Affect?

In Pennsylvania, nearly 760,000 registered voters, or 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voter base, don't own state-issued ID cards, according to an analysis of state records by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Locally, here is the county-specific breakdown of voters without a PennDOT ID number in the Greater Philadelphia area:

County Voters Without ID Active Voters Inactive Voters Chester 17,928 22,475 4,547 Delaware 33,130 40,547 7,417 Montgomery 37,645 44,952 7,307 Philadelphia 136,182 186,830 50,648

What’s the Controversy?

Those opposing the law say it disproportionately targets the elderly as well as the poor and minorities, who typically vote democratic. Furthermore, critics say that the burden of obtaining an acceptable ID for these people would keep them from voting.

How Rampant is Voter Fraud?

Well, apparently not too much. In a stipulation agreement signed earlier this month, state officials conceded that they had no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud, or even any reason to believe that such crimes would occur with more frequency if a voter ID law wasn't in effect, Huffington Post reports.

In 2007, the New York Times reported it had identified 120 cases of voter fraud nationwide filed by the Justice Department over five years that resulted in 86 convictions.

What Will the Court Challenge Determine?

Since the state stipulates that it has no evidence of voter fraud, the case in front of the Commonwealth Court is to decide whether the law is violates the state constitution, whether state lawmakers have the power to enact such a strict law.

Beyond the court challenge, the U.S. Department of Justice has also launched an investigation into Pennsyvalnia's new voter ID law based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

What Makes the Issue So Political?

Prior to the 2006 elections, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote, according to this report by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. In 2006, Indiana became the first state in the nation to requie ID, and that law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. And except for Rhode Island, all voter ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-majority legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s.  

The Brennan report also notes that since the 2010 mid-term election, when Republicans made big gains, voter ID law became a “major legislative policy.” Democrats say voter ID laws are a political tactic to keep Democratic voters from the polls.

What’s Next?

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson plans to issue a ruling on the case the week of Aug. 13. Senior Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney Gen. Patrick Canley, who is defending the law in court, and ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, who is fighting against the law, say they will appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court if they lose.

Local Voices

Adrian Seltzer: “I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. That being said, I am the majority inspector of elections in Lower Merion 8-2 and having read all 29 pages of HB 934 the voter ID bill suspect I will have to become one to follow the minutia in this unnecessary bill.”


Harvey Glickman: “In one sense the history of elections in the USA has recorded a march to an expansion of the electorate...Nevertheless, two elements of voting have resisted this march toward greater inclusiveness: the shape of the districts in which we cast our ballots for our national and state representatives, and the obstacles we place in the way of physically getting to the polls on election day.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments are below.

Janice Farland August 08, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Moe…honey…please come out of the echo chamber. The reality based community misses you. The Washington Examiner is owned by the 34th richest man in the world Phillip Anshultz. Like Rupert Murdoch who uses his fortune to control a vast right wing media empire (including Fox News) to create animosity between the Middle Class and those hoping to join the Middle Class, Mr. Anshultz understands that if the middle and the bottom can come together the top will fall (meaning they will lose their ownership of Congress and have to pay their fair share of taxes)l. The middle and lower income scales make up the 99% and the 1% will do anything in its power to keep them at each other’s throats. Just look at the latest “1percenter” ad trying to sway middle-class Dem’s and Independents that Obama just gutted the work requirement of Clintons Welfare reform. It’s BS, total, 100%, unadulterated BS. Just like the creation of your Black Panther controversy see: http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/conservative-bush-appointee-new-black-panth The reality of Obama’s recent Welfare change is that it was requested by Republican Governors (Romney himself as Gov signed a petition asking for it back in 05) and it gives the states more flexibility and IN NO WAY weaken or undercut welfare reform.
Janice Farland August 08, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Longwood Gardens? You are using Longwood Gardens and your membership therein as analogous to the need to show ID at a polling place where you are constitutionally guaranteed the right to vote? Really? Last time I check membership at LG was not only NOT constitutionally protected it was fairly expensive. You go on to say that “serious voters” still have almost three months to fix it. Maybe what you should have said was affluent voters or voters with means because obviously you haven’t got a clue what it is that the new unconstitutional law means to those or are old, infirm, impoverished or unaware that something as simple as an middle initial could eliminate their RIGHT TO VOTE.
Janice Farland August 08, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I showed my ID when I registered. That is the system. That is what has worked for years and that is why any form of ID should be valid once you are on the rolls. The system works. The state of PA AGREES that there is NO VOTER FRAUD in PA. yet these self-same de-regulation “anti-government”, “anti-deficit”, bought and paid for Republican politicians are more than happy (in this instance) to enlarge the bureaucracy, add another regulation and increase spending on a problem they KNOW DOES NOT EXIST. How can anyone who is not entirely brain-dead miss what is the real point of this new law. They even ADMITTED it F.C.S To quote Bill Star "At a June GOP rally, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai sparked outrage among voting-rights proponents when he trumpeted the new law as an accomplishment that would pay political dividends to the Republican nominee. "Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done," Turzai said, eliciting cheers from the partisan crowd." http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57487130-503544/despite-polls-romney-camp-sees-opportunity-in-pa/
Kevin R Pound August 08, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Thanks for that effort. Of course, reading it just added to my trepidation. Even though I strictly enforce the "no talking" rule with pollwatchers (most of whom have no idea why they're there), I can't control what they may or may not complain about outside the polling place to their committee people. Last presidential election I had to chase out a lawyer who came in offering to represent any disenfranchised voters. As contentious as this election promises to be, I am sure this issue is going to bite some poor JOE in the you-know-what. And I don't want it to be me.
Colin A. Mattis August 09, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Just when you thought you couldn’t be any more disgusted with the politics between D’s & R’s You could not imagine a more blatant abuse of authority than what is going on in the swing state of Ohio. Expanded voting hours in Republican counties restricted hours in Democrat counties. NO Really, read it again. The R’s in charge have voted to allow their registered voters to vote over a multi-day period while the D’s will be restricted in the hours that they can get out to support their candidates. Are you KIDDING me!!! And we Pennsylvanians have a comment thread over 58 deep arguing over whether the Republican law to limit voting by those who are most likely to vote Democrat is really about protection from voter fraud. http://bit.ly/NdmYyq On another note Ann Coulter just let the cat out of the bag with regard to the fantasy that Hannity is on a channel that is “Fair and Balanced” when she said “there is no point in your doing your show” if Romney surrogates are going to say things that kill his chance of being elected. Check my Twitter feed later for link to video @roxntreez

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