Pennsylvania’s voter identification law may disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of residents unless the state improves access to free IDs, according to a new study.
Just 13 percent of 43 state Transportation Department offices that provide the identification had signs in reception areas saying the cards were available, according to the study by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. It said volunteers got incomplete or inaccurate information in half their visits.
“Without a rigorous effort to ensure ID is available easily and for free for those who require it, tens or hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, including some who have voted for decades, will be disenfranchised,” the center said today in the study. The group is based in Harrisburg, the state capital.
Backed by Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, the statute was enacted this year as similar measures in other states drew fire from Democrats. Critics say the rules disenfranchise minority, poor and young voters, who tend to support Democrats. Comparable laws in Texas and South Carolina have been blocked by the U.S. Justice Department, which is probing whether the Keystone State’s version violates the Voting Rights Act.
The Pennsylvania law, which has been challenged in court as unconstitutional, requires voters to show a state driver’s license or an acceptable alternative, such as a military identification, in order to obtain a ballot.
With the Nov. 6 election just 11 weeks away, implementing the law should be delayed, the Pennsylvania group recommended. Volunteers visited 43 of the 71 state offices where driver’s licenses and photo identification cards are issued. In three of 10 visits, applicants were told incorrectly that they would have to pay for the cards needed to vote, according to the report.
“This is a constitutional right that people have to vote, and it is incumbent upon the authorities to ensure that obtaining the ID that is necessary doesn’t place an undue burden,” said Sharon Ward, executive director of the group, in a call with reporters today. “So the burden is really on the public agencies to prove that they have not disenfranchised voters.”
Officials have said initial estimates of residents who lack acceptable identification were inaccurately low. David Burgess, a deputy secretary of state, said in court testimony this week that the number is about 1.5 million. That’s 18 percent of 8.26 million registered voters statewide.
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