Voter ID Bills Under Fire in Michigan and Pennsylvania

A new analysis of voter rolls and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) ID databases reveal a startling reality--758,000 Pennsylvanians, 9.2% of the voting population, do not have a photo identification card issued by the PennDot. A PennDot ID is one of the few forms of photo ID that will be accepted at the polls in November. The study has confirmed long-held suspicions that the voter ID law in Pennsylvania is too strict.

Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was passed in March 2012 ostensibly to safeguard elections. It has since been challenged by Allegheny County’s election board. In October 2011, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele wrote an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer saying that “99 percent of eligible voters currently have acceptable photo ID” and that the voter-ID law protected voting, which is “among our most basic and precious rights,” and for which we fought a revolution. Ironically, the recent analysis was released by Aichele’s office on July 3 and went viral on July 4.

While 9.2% of the state’s registered voters are without a PennDot ID, 18% of voters in Philadelphia are lacking one. This is unsurprising, since voter ID laws are known to disproportionately suppress urban populations. Without a PennDot ID, the only forms of ID that remain for voting are U.S. military IDs; employee photo IDs issued by federal or Pennsylvania state, county or municipal governments; photo ID cards issued by a Pennsylvania care facility; photo IDs issued by the U.S. Federal Government; and photo ID cards from an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning. These IDs are only held by the general population. Indeed, the number of registered voters without PennDot ID is likely close to the number of registered voters without any form of Voter ID.

Although some of the registered voters without ID may include students at an accredited Pennsylvania public or private institution of higher learning, strict requirements for university IDs will deny most students the ability to vote with their student ID. Pennsylvania law requires student IDs to have a photo and an expiration date in order to be used as a voter ID. A recent study by PennPIRG suggests that 85% of students in Pennsylvania go to schools without acceptable IDs for voting.  

Disenfranchising 9.2% of the state’s population will have implications for the state and the country. In the 2012, Pennsylvanians will vote for a US Senator and the state will be a pivotal swing state in the Presidential election. In fact, a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House has plainly said that the voter ID law will “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Of course, there are also eighteen Congressional elections. Philadelphia, with its 186,830 registered but ID-less voters, will have elections for two Congressional seats. One can only imagine how distorted the results will be if around one-fifth of registered voters cannot vote.

However, not all election law news on July 3 was bad. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed SB 754, H.B. 5061, and S.B. 803, which would have put onerous restrictions on voters wishing to register and on voter registration organizations. The bills were all sponsored by Republicans. They also were made in the name of a favorite cause of the Republican party lately: ostensibly protecting elections from fraud. In 2011 and 2012, five states have introduced new voter ID laws, others have strengthened old ones, and even more have introduced voter ID bills only to have them fall somewhere in the legislative process. Generally, these bills have been supported along party lines.

Thus, the vetoes were remarkable because Snyder, a Republican, broke ranks from his state and national party. The Speaker of the Michigan House, Jase Bolger, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the vetoes. State Senator Darwin Booher, a sponsor of S.B. 803, said that Snyder had missed an opportunity “to protect the integrity of our elections process.” Snyder’s decision was a far too rare act of bipartisanship in the current political climate. It also came in an election year when his state is likely to be a battleground. Hopefully the fact that a Republican has come out against legislation that the Republican party favors, and which gives the party an electoral advantage, will inspire other Republican leadership to put aside partisanship when it comes to voting rights and simply let the people speak.

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Jacob Porter

I was born and grew up in Austin, Texas, where I loved the parks, the summers, playing baseball, and the people. I go to school at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Since going to college I have traveled internationally four times and have learned Spanish.

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