Thursday’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court hearing on the state’s recently-passed voter ID law — which could disenfranchise a large number of registered, disproportionately poor and minority voters in urban centers — is big news for Philadelphia, as well as Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
The court could decide to either stop or delay the law’s implementation, or uphold the lower court’s ruling. This decision will impact this year’s presidential election, and has the potential to affect cities across the nation as these bills have been introduced in 41 states since 2011.
The impact of this law’s passage in Philadelphia would be significant. It could potentially disenfranchise about 282,000, or 32.5 percent, of city residents who either lack ID or have expired licenses or IDs, according to a study detailed on the blog Examine Voter ID. The study notes that Philadelphians of other non-white ethnicities or races would be more adversely affected by the law. African-American voting precincts house residents 85 percent more likely to lack a valid ID than those living in predominantly white precincts, the study reported. Predominantly Hispanic and Asian precincts also include a higher proportion of residents lacking valid legal ID — 108 percent and 35 percent respectively.
As noted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Republican Justice Thomas G. Saylor questioned whether the state was complying with provisions in the voter ID law intended to ease the law’s burden for those who currently lack ID. Lawyers for the state acknowledged this failure, stating that Homeland Security laws forced Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to require additional proof.
This explains the confusion that one NAC editor faced when he attempted to secure himself an eligible Pennsylvania ID. A resident should be able to acquire a non-driver’s state ID for voting purposes at no cost however, a staff member at the PennDOT incorrectly said that free ID cards were reserved only as a last resort for those residents without access to a birth certificate.
Another Inquirer article noted that 18 percent of the city’s registered voters completely lack PennDot ID cards, compared with 9.2 percent statewide. These figures are significantly higher than the 1 percent repeatedly stated by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
This new law, especially when hastily implemented, has the potential to remove the power to vote from large swaths of Philadelphia’s residents, mostly minority populations. It also has the power to sway the November presidential election. As noted in Politics PA, House Republican leader Mike Turzai at a Republican State Committee meeting in June made the issue clear, “voter ID — which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”