Under Pennsylvania’s harsh new voter ID law, as many as 20 percent of voters in the state lack the photo IDs required to cast a vote, an estimated 1,636,168. In Philadelphia alone, however, 437,237 people, a whopping 43 percent of the voting population, may be ineligible to vote under the law, according to The Philadelphia City Paper.
Furthermore, The Nation reports that there is a major gap between the law’s requirements and people’s knowledge of what they need to vote. According to one study (.pdf), “only 34 percent of registered voters are aware of the law but 98 percent of registered voters believe they have the right ID. That’s a huge gap between perception and reality with regards to the law.”
The controversial voter ID law is being challenged in court today to determine whether the law requiring photo ID for every voter violates the state’s constitution. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg will hear a suit brought by 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite in conjunction with the NAACP and the ACLU.
Applewhite, a great-grandmother who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, has worked as a hotel maid for most of her adult life. She has never had a driver’s license. Her purse was stolen four years ago along with her only copy of her Social Security card. She was adopted as a child and has been married twice. As a result, she does not have the necessary documentation to acquire a state-sanctioned voter ID card and if the law is upheld, Applewhite will not be able to vote in a presidential election for the first time since 1960, when she pulled the lever to vote for John F. Kennedy.
Pennsylvania Republicans, including Gov. Tom Corbett, insist that the new laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, recent developments would seem to contradict that assertion.
In June, Republican House Leader Mike Turzai told a group of voters the real reason Republicans are so anxious to pass the voter ID law is because the statute “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania” because it disenfranchises two traditionally Democratic constituencies, the poor and ethnic minorities. Also, the state has admitted in court filings that it has not investigated or prosecuted a single vote fraud case.
In response to widespread outcry over the obviousness of the Republicans’ efforts to suppress Democratic voter turnout, the state government has created a backup ID program. Sadly, the individuals tasked with running the outreach and education effort are all Republican operatives with ties to Gov. Corbett and the Romney campaign.
The Pennsylvania law is similar in concept to laws passed by Republicans in other states like Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri, many of which are also tied up in court. Former President Clinton said the Republican efforts at vote suppression are unlike anything he has ever seen.
“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” he said.
In addition to the trial today, Pennsylvania is currently being investigated by the Department of Justice. Attorney General Eric Holder has requested voter rolls, registration records and other documents to determine whether the state has violated Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in 1965 to ensure voting rights protection for racial and other minorities.