Voter ID law sparks disenfranchisement debate
HARRISBURG - With election day less than four months away, a debate is getting more intense over whether the new state law requiring voters to show specific photo identification at the polls will be a tool for disenfranchisement.
A report by the Pennsylvania Department of State shows that 758,000 registered voters don't have photo identification cards from the state transportation department - the most common form of photo ID needed to comply with the law. About 22 percent of these voters are considered "inactive" by state elections officials since they haven't voted in the past five years. The 758,000 number represents 9 percent of the 8.2 million registered voters in Pennsylvania, far higher than earlier estimates by Secretary of State Carol Aichele that only one percent of voters lack a PennDOT ID card.
State officials matched voter registration rolls with PennDOT ID databases to get the numbers. They plan to mail notification letters this summer to voters identified as not having a PennDOT ID number and provide the names to county election directors.
The law requires all voters to show photo ID such as a driver's license or nondriver PennDOT photo ID, U.S. passports, student ID cards with expiration dates, current military identification or ID cards issued to government employees.
Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican legislative leaders said the law will guard against voter fraud and uphold one person, one-vote standards. Democratic lawmakers said the law is an effort to keep the young, poor and elderly away from the polls in a presidential election year.
The task of getting 9 percent of the electorate in compliance with the law by Nov. 6 is fueling controversy over this law which faces a hearing in a state court later this month. A Commonwealth Court hearing is scheduled July 25 in Harrisburg on a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups seeking an injunction to block implementation of the law.
They represent plaintiffs, including a 93-year-old black woman from Philadelphia who participated in a civil rights march with Martin Luther King Jr., who contend the law violates the state constitution. Voters lacking photo ID will face problems trying to obtain a birth certificate, the key supporting document, the lawsuit said.
House Minority Frank Dermody, D-33, Allegheny, is seeking a federal review of whether the law violates the 1965 voting rights act.
"I fear the disenfranchisement of voters," said Lackawanna County Commissioner Corey O'Brien last week.
He called for an intensive effort involving both state and county officials to make sure elderly voters can make arrangements to obtain the proper voter ID at the half-dozen senior centers in Lackawanna County.
Senior citizens who have stopped driving often don't have a PennDOT ID card yet they are among the most reliable voters, said O'Brien. Senior citizens who don't drive and have limited mobility can get to a senior center through shared-ride programs, he added.
Transportation department employees are starting to go to senior centers to help individuals get voter IDs, said department Secretary Barry Schoch. The initial visits have been to senior centers in the Philadelphia area, but an offer will be made soon to Lackawanna County officials, said department spokesman Steve Chizmar Friday. He said officials in any county can request having department employees at senior centers at scheduled times.
"We are more than willing to go out," added Chizmar.
Gov. Tom Corbett said last week he doesn't see any need to postpone the law's implementation until after the Nov. 6 election saying individuals will be able to obtain the proper voter ID before then.
"We have four months," added Corbett. "That's plenty of time to get it."
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-121, Wilkes-Barre, introduced legislation last week to delay the law's implementation date to 2016. He said one in five senior citizens, including World War II veterans, no longer drive and don't have the proper photo ID.
"These people are going to fall through the cracks," added Pashinski.
Democratic lawmakers have been blocked in efforts to promote initiatives like a mobile van equipped to issue photo IDs, he said.
Pennsylvania's law attracted national attention with a YouTube video of House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-28, Pittsburgh, saying the law would allow GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania during remarks at a recent Republican State Committee meeting.
What Turzai was referring to is that due to the law, candidates will have a level playing field in seeking votes in Pennsylvania, said Turzai spokesman Steve Miskin.
"House Majority Leader Turzai's comments prove this bill was rushed through the legislature with the goal of preventing some people from voting so Governor Romney and other Republicans can fix elections," said Pashinski.
Contact the writer: email@example.comA county-by-county breakdown of active and inactive voters who do not have PennDOT identification