ACLU Prepping for Legal Challenge to Voter ID Bill Moving Through Harrisburg

Mar 8, 2012

Pennsylvania may become one of the states that require valid photo identification to vote. The State Senate passed a measure that supporters say will help prevent voter fraud. Many civil liberty groups oppose the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania. Legal Director Vic Walczak said arguments that the requirement would be a success if even one fraudulent voter was stopped are misguided.

"In pursuit of that goal of preventing any kind of fraud they're willing to disenfranchise probably thousands of people who are legitimately registered, have voted for many years and will now not be able to vote," said Walczak.

The concern is for the thousands of Pennsylvanians who don't have driver's licenses or other photo ID.

"What you're talking about, largely, is people who are poor, disproportionately people of color who may live in large ubran areas where they have access to mass transit and don't need driver's licenses, and you're talking about a huge number of elderly people," said Walczak.

And the argument that one can just go get a license or non-driver ID is a case of 'easier said than done.' Walczak said in most cases a birth certificate is needed for those forms of identification, and the elderly and other groups who may not have birth certificates would also have a hard time paying to get a copy of theirs.

The bill passed the Senate mostly along party lines, with all but three Republicans voting in favor. Supporters say nobody will be turned away from the polls. If someone shows up without proper ID, they could fill out a provisional ballot, but would have to provide identification within 6 days.

"It involves a lot of things you have to do before that provisional ballot will be counted, and if you can't get that ID in the first place before the election, you're certainly not going to be able to do it in six days," said Walczak. "It's an illusion to say that everybody is going to be able to vote. Yes, they'll be able to vote, but those votes will not be counted."

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is already mounting a legal challenge to the bill. Should it pass the House, Governor Tom Corbett has already said he supports the measure.

Fifteen other states have voter ID laws, but at least one state's law — Wisconsin's — is held up in court. Other states are awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

State Democrats and the president of the Pennsylvania NAACP said they also plan to sue the state if the bill passes.