Voter ID law may affect more Pennsylvanians than previously estimated

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele
Posted: July 05, 2012

More than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department, putting their voting rights at risk in the November election, according to data released Tuesday by state election officials.

The figures - representing 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voters - are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Corbett administration. Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has repeatedly said that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's voters already had the photo ID they will need at the polls in November.

The new numbers, based on a comparison of voter registration rolls with PennDot ID databases, shows the potential problem is much bigger, particularly in Philadelphia, where 186,830 registered voters - 18 percent of the city's total registration - do not have PennDot ID.

Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, various other forms of photo identification will be accepted at voting places in November, including U.S. passports, student identification cards with expiration dates, current military identification, and ID cards issued to government employees.

But for most voters, the Pennsylvania driver's license is the standard photo ID. The disclosure that 9 percent of the state's registered voters don't have one - or an alternative, nondriver PennDot photo ID - provides a clearer picture of the hurdle set up by the state's new voter ID requirement.

Republican lawmakers pushed the bill through the legislature in March and it was signed into law by Gov. Corbett, over protests from Democrats that the measure would disenfranchise thousands of voters, disproportionately affecting those without driver's licenses - the poor, the elderly, and the young.

House Republican leader Mike Turzai acknowledged the law's political implications at a Republican State Committee meeting last month.

"Voter ID - which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania - done," Turzai told the crowd, which burst into applause, as he listed legislative accomplishments under GOP control.

The law still faces a legal challenge as a possible violation of the state constitution. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson scheduled a July 25 hearing and his decision is likely to reach the state Supreme Court before November.

Aichele's department issued the figures Tuesday without mentioning her past estimates.

"This thorough comparison of databases confirms that most Pennsylvanians have acceptable photo ID for voting this November," she said in a news release. "This comparison takes into account only voters with PennDot IDs, and does not include voters who may have any of the other various acceptable forms of ID."

A Department of State spokesman, Ron Ruman, noted that 167,566 of the registered voters without PennDot ID were classified as "inactive," not having voted in the last four years. "Our experience is, a lot of these people are former college students who don't live here anymore," he said in an interview.

He said the methodology used by PennDot and the Department of State - a match of first names, last names and birth dates - may also have missed some voters who have PennDot ID.

For example, if someone named Anna Nicole Jones registered to vote as Anna Jones but got her driver's license as Nicole Jones, she would be listed as a non-match, Ruman said.

Philadelphia's top election official, City Commission Chair Stephanie Singer, said the figures reinforced her view that the state's new law was designed to suppress voter turnout in the predominantly Democratic city.

With 18 percent of voters not having PennDot ID, she said, "Philadelphia is hit much harder by this than any of the other counties."

Singer had sought to obtain PennDot's data directly and set up a telephone call last month to speak to PennDot Secretary Barry J. Schoch.

But Aichele's office found out about the call and canceled it on the ground that the Department of State was supposed to be the point agency for all matters involving voter ID.

Singer said she now was anxious to receive the state data including names and addresses for those without PennDot ID - data that the state initially promised to send her office in May, Singer said.

Ruman said the state planned to distribute the lists to county election boards by next week. In addition, he said, the state intends to send letters this summer to all voters without PennDot ID telling them of the new law, the types of ID that will be necessary to vote in November, and how to obtain suitable ID if they need it.

Behind Philadelphia's 18 percent, nine other counties - Allegheny, Cameron, Centre, Cumberland, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Montour, and Union - were reported to have 10 percent to 12 percent of their voters without PennDot ID. In the other 57 counties, more than 90 percent of voters reportedly had driver's licenses or nondriver ID, according to the state data.

More information on the voter ID law is available on a state website at www.VotesPA.com or by calling 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772) during business hours.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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