New changes and challenges have hit Pennsylvania’s voter identification law this week.
On Monday, the United States Department of Justice wrote a letter to the Pennsylvania Department of State announcing its intent to investigate the voter ID law. The DOJ declined to comment further on the investigation.
On Friday, Pennsylvania election officials announced a new government-issued ID that will be valid at the polls. The law will still be challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania beginning on July 25.
Current estimates from Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele place the number of voters without valid identification at 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s 8.2 million voters, or 758,000 people.
The law requires would-be voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Valid IDs include Pennsylvania drivers’ licenses, passports, military ID and IDs issued by accredited Pennsylvania colleges and universities. All IDs must have an expiration date. This would not affect Penn student IDs, but numerous other Pennsylvania colleges, including Drexel University, which do not have expiration dates on their cards would be affected.
In the upcoming trial, the state has signed a stipulation saying it has no known evidence of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. The statement reads that the Commonwealth will not “offer evidence of such in-person voter fraud in or outside Pennsylvania” during the trial.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the trial.
While other states have strict voter ID laws, this marks the first time the Justice Department has expressed interest in one. The letter asks for the current Pennsylvania registration list, the current Pennsylvania drivers’ license list and documents supporting the Pennsylvania government’s estimate about the number of voters who have valid ID “no later than 30 days from the date of this letter.”
To block the law, the federal government would have to sue Pennsylvania, according to Politico. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008.
New regulations may allow more people to acquire a valid ID. Before the change, those without a valid ID could acquire an ID card at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. On Friday, election officials announced that if Pennsylvania residents could not produce a birth certificate to qualify for the PennDOT ID, they could get an ID at the Pennsylvania Department of State with a Social Security number and two proofs of residency, such as utility bills and lease agreements.
“It’s a last resort kind of card,” Pennsylvania Department of State Director of Public Relations Nathan Winkler said. Potential voters would have to first go to PennDOT. He said PennDOT would confirm with the State Department that “everything matches up” and voters would “walk out that day with a card in hand.”
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the nonpartisan Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said, “This is not going to solve their problem.” Clarke is an attorney in the voter ID trial. She said PennDOT and the State Department would begin issuing cards 10 weeks before the election.
“We did the math — it’s 15,000 a day,” she said, referring to Aichele’s number of 758,000 people.
“It’s way too little, too late.” At trial, the ACLU will be joined by plaintiffs such as PILCOP and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Clarke explained the trial was for a temporary injunction — a court order prohibiting an action by a party to a lawsuit until there has been a trial or other court action.
“We want to stop it temporarily because there’s so much harm … and we don’t have time now to go into a full trial,” she said. She added that each side could ask the Supreme Court to hear the case if they lose.
“The most important thing is to show the judge and the world that there are people — not just people but registered voters — that don’t have ID,” she said. The groups most affected by the law are minorities, low-income people and seniors, according to Clarke.
Four other states — Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Georgia — have strict photo ID requirements like Pennsylvania. Other states with less stringent requirements have faced legal battles over their laws in court. A voter ID requirement in Wisconsin was declared to violate the state’s constitution, but the ruling will likely be appealed, according to Politico.
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