Corbett administration rips feds over voter-law request

Posted: August 20, 2012

HARRISBURG - The Corbett administration has issued a strong rebuke to what it called an "unprecedented" request by the U.S. Justice Department for information related to the state's new voter identification law.

In a letter dated Friday, Corbett's general counsel, James D. Schultz, wrote that the federal government had no legal authority to make such a request, and suggested the Justice Department's inquiry was "fueled" by politics.

Nonetheless, Schultz's letter said, the state might "voluntarily" comply with the request if federal officials first promise not to disclose confidential data about voters.

In July, the Justice Department asked the Corbett administration to document its initial estimate that 99 percent of the state's voters had the photo identification they would need to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election.

That estimate was later amended by the Department of State, which runs elections, to reflect that up to 9.2 percent of voters did not have valid driver's licenses or PennDot nondriver photo ID. Still later, a closer look at the PennDot data suggested that figure might be too high.

The Justice Department said it wanted the information in order to gauge whether the state's new law complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act's ban on election laws or practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or language.

At first, the Corbett administration said it would compile the information the Justice Department is seeking. But Schultz wrote that federal officials were reaching outside their purview in seeking voter registration rolls and PennDot driver's license lists.

"In light of your absence of authority for your request for information I question whether your inquiry is truly motivated by a desire to assess compliance with federal voting laws, or rather is fueled by political motivation," he wrote in a letter to assistant attorney general Thomas Perez in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

The Justice Department did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

Schultz's letter also contends there is no need to assess whether the ID law complies with federal antidiscrimination law because Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson effectively did so last week. Simpson denied a request to block enforcement of the law, and found no evidence of discrimination.

Schultz wrote that the judge's 70-page ruling, which has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, provided "all the assessment necessary." He also asked federal officials to promise in writing, as lawyers in the legal challenge had, not to disclose what he termed "confidential" data about Pennsylvanians' voter identifications.


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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