Pa. ordered to surrender data in voter-ID dispute

Posted: May 01, 2013

State transportation and election officials were ordered Monday to provide data on licensed drivers and registered voters to plaintiffs in the ongoing voter-ID dispute, hoping to answer a question that has baffled state officials for the last year: how many Pennsylvania voters do not already have photo identification cards from PennDot?

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. agreed to a motion from opponents of the state's new voter ID law, saying their data request was relevant.

"Not knowing how many Pennsylvania voters don't have PennDot ID was a major problem in the legal proceedings last year," said Vic Walczak, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, representing plaintiffs opposing the voter ID law.

"The state has refused to perform that analysis," he said, "so forcing the state to turn the databases over so we can do the matching is important so we know how many people will be disenfranchised by the ID requirement."

Opponents of the voter ID law, including Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, tried to obtain licensing information from the Department of Transportation more than a year ago but the request was denied because of PennDot's security concerns.

The state agreed to do its own match between registered voters and PennDot licensees. In July, the Department of State reported that as many as 758,000 voters - 9.2 percent of the electorate - might be without the photo ID required by the voter ID law.

The state cautioned at the time that the number might be high due to drivers using different first names on their PennDot ID and their voter ID.

But an Inquirer review of the state's data found so many false hits - people listed without PennDot ID though they had had it for decades - that the state study had little value in determining how many people needed photo ID or identifying who they were.

The state's computers also had problems distinguishing names with initials, spaces, hyphens, and apostrophes, or names that computers sometimes spell with spaces, like McDonald. In Philadelphia alone, more than 10,000 people whose names began with Mc were listed as mismatches.


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

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