As the state Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments today at City Hall on Pennsylvania’s voter identification law, state records indicate that efforts to educate voters about the new requirements are falling well short.
The new law requires all registered voters to show valid photo ID before casting their ballot. The Department of State has estimated the number of registered voters in Pennsylvania without proper identification at about 758,000. As of Sept. 11, a total of 8,127 residents have obtained a state identification card or a voter card, or roughly 0.1 percent, a PennDOT spokeswoman said. That number does not include residents who may have renewed an expired ID.
Opponents of the law hope that the six-judge panel will overturn a Commonwealth Court judge’s ruling last month which upheld the law, and delay implementation, because they say the narrowly tailored law will suppress the fundamental right to vote. Those who support the law claim it will help prevent voter fraud and is well within the Constitution.
Although no ruling is expected today, a decision will likely come before the end of the month.
Regardless of the outcome, it will have a significant impact on the November general election.
“There is a big gap, even if you take the Department of State’s lowest estimate,” said Sarah Mullen, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which represents some of the plaintiffs in the appeal. “There are going to be people who, if this law stays in place, will be disenfranchised.”
Voting rights activists claim the law will unfairly affect minorities and senior citizens. Educational efforts to inform voters about the new requirements have been slowed partially due to the new types of identification unveiled by the state.
“People do think they’re covered and they’re not,”
Will Justices reign in law
One of the major questions likely to be asked, which Simpson alluded to in his opinion, is what level of judicial scrutiny should be applied to the Legislature setting new, more stringent rules for potential voters.
In briefs filed in the last few weeks, the two sides had contrasting opinions. An attorney for the appellants claims they showed the law would have “immediate” and “inevitable” harm to voters.
Attorneys representing the Commonwealth, however, contended “What is at issue in this case is a policy judgment about the degree of security appropriate to protect a constitutional right, and it is for the General Assembly to make that policy judgment. The Commonwealth Court was right not to apply strict scrutiny.”
Who, what, how
Voters must present one of the following types of identification in order to cast a ballot in November and every election going forward.
A current Pennsylvania driver’s license or nondriver state photo ID, a social security card, two proofs of residence and a valid U.S. Passport or birth, U.S. citizenship or naturalization certificate.
A valid U.S. passport.
A current local, state or federal government employee, military, accredited Pennsylvania college or licensed care facility photo ID.
A free, voter-only ID that can be obtained at a PennDOT Drivers License Center with two proofs of residence, a social security number, a form with the applicant’s birth name, mother’s and father’s names and place of birth and a signed oath swearing that the applicant doesn’t have acceptable ID to vote. They must wait to receive notice that their birth record has been confirmed by the Department of Health – an estimated 10 days – and return with all of those documents to receive the ID.
People without the required ID on election day will be permitted to fill out a provisional ballot that will be counted only if they return with an acceptable form of photo ID and proof they are the same person who cast the provisional ballot within six days, though, as the original petition for review notes, two of those days are on the weekend when government offices are closed.