Foes of Pa. photo-ID law cite Puerto Ricans’ plight

Posted: July 14, 2012

Of all the groups claiming to be burdened by the new law requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote in Pennsylvania, people born in Puerto Rico have it the worst, a coalition of civil rights and Latino advocacy organizations said Friday.

While Asian Americans, seniors and others have complained about the law's impact, it "devastates" voter access for Puerto Ricans, said lawyer Juan Carlos Ibarra, because a series of bureaucratic hurdles requires them "to walk a longer path to the voting booth" in November.

Ibarra, a staff attorney for the Advancement Project, a Washington nonprofit that describes its mission as "racial justice," explained the problems at a news conference at the Lighthouse, a century-old, former settlement house in North Philadelphia.

Two years ago, as part of an effort to cut down on counterfeit Puerto Rican birth certificates being used by non-Puerto Ricans to enter the United States illegally, Puerto Rico invalidated certificates issued before July 2010 and required people to apply for new ones with enhanced security features.

The flood of requests swamped Puerto Rico's vital-statistics office. Some people simply gave up on the process. Now, 16 weeks out from Election Day, they have to rush to get new certificates. Provided they receive them in the mail in time, they then have to use them to apply for a PennDot-issued ID, the most common type of photo ID.

"That's two significant barriers to the ballot," Ibarra said.

Other types of acceptable photo ID for voting include: U.S. passports, accredited and current Pennsylvania college or university IDs, and U.S. military or Pennsylvania National Guard IDs.

City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, whose office oversees elections in Philadelphia, said, "This is a fight for the soul of America. . . . One person, one vote. . . . That's the way power works in America. We need all of Philadelphia voting, and this law is getting in the way."

Jennifer Clarke of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia said her organization, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project, and the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter, would be seeking an injunction against the law in Commonwealth Court later this month.

Supporters of the new law defend it as a way to cut down on voter fraud and to ensure the purity of ballots. Similar laws have been adopted or introduced in more than 30 states.

Critics, many of them Democrats, say voter-ID fraud is virtually nonexistent, and they see the laws as a way to suppress voting among people who tend to support Democrats.

Friday, in a news release entitled "Chicken Little in the Voting Booth," the Immigration Policy Center, a Washington nonprofit that favors immigrant integration, said fewer than 25 people nationwide were convicted or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005.

State Rep. Tony Payton (D., Phila.), who attended Friday's news conference, said the new law in Pennsylvania is "a solution in search of a problem."

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or

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