Some 750,000 Pennsylvania citizens may be barred from voting, under new law
A voter ID bill passed out of the Pennsylvania legislature may keep as many as 750,000 lawful voters away from the polls because they lack the specific IDs required by the new law. The majority of those 750,000 are low-income voters and minorities.
A new Pennsylvania law could bar nine percent of eligible voters from the polls this November.
A GOP-backed measure to combat voter fraud will require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. According to a new report from the Philadelphia Inquirer, however, some 750,000 of the state's citizens don't have the sort of ID they will need in order to vote.
Democrats fear the law could have disastrous effects on their presidential election prospects, because the majority of those without proper ID are liberal-leaning low-income voters. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Republican House leader Mike Turzai was caught boasting last month that the law was going to lead Mitt Romney to win the swing state.
University of North Carolina law professor Kareem Crayton said these sorts of laws, while there are exceptions, tend to disadvantage those who are poor, who are minorities, because they have a lower likelihood of having driver's licenses.
All of that, despite indications that voter fraud is extremely rare across the United States. In an earlier challenge, though, the Supreme Court said that was OK, but it left open the door to further challenges, if it could be proven that many people were disenfranchised after the laws went into effect, and it did little to reduce actual voter fraud.
"The hard question now, that I think the courts are dealing with, is OK, assuming that there might be a good reason to have these statutes in place, is there nonetheless such a disparity in the presence of the ID, such that we're going to put some extra special protections on what the state can and can't put in place for a voter ID law," Crayton said. "And that's really where Pennsylvania is right now."
Texas' voter ID law is also being challenged, though the federal government has blocked that law from going into effect. That's because Texas is covered by a special provision of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal approval for any changes to voting standards in states with a history of discrimination at the polls.
"Texas had to actually show some evidence that in enacting this statute they're not going to unfairly burden minority communities, particularly Latinos, but also African-Americans, in requiring this extra step to get access to the ballot," Crayton said. "Before now, Pennsylvania, which isn't covered under the statute, didn't, under law, have to produce this data. But, all of the sudden, when a lot of people on the Democratic side and a number of others asked Pennsylvania ... to show us how likely it is, if you're in a minority population or the population in general, that you have a voter ID."
While proponents had said the portion of the population without ID would be very small, the actual number that came back, 750,000, was startlingly large.
Crayton said this will present tough questions for ID law advocates to answer. First, why they mischaracterized the burden people will face, and second, whether there's any evidence of fraud to make this law necessary — especially so necessary that it must be implemented in advance of the upcoming election.
According to Crayton, this law was rushed through the legislature and isn't, by most accounts, unknown to voters.
"The only place it's been applied so far is a primary and it was not particularly well-attended," Crayton said.
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