Government
6:30 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Voter ID Law Affects More than Expected, Nearly 1 in 10

The number of voters in Pennsylvania without the IDs they need to cast votes this fall is about 9 times larger than the 1% originally estimated, according to a new report by state officials.

By comparing voter registration rolls with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation databases, the Department of State determined 91% of commonwealth voters have PennDOT identification numbers. The original estimate cited by the Corbett administration was 99%.

"Nine percent could throw an election either way, or any significant percentage of that 9%," said Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, a community organization.

Of those without ID numbers, the report includes 99,218 voters in Allegheny County, 6,207 in Cambria County, and 4,538 in Somerset. Students, seniors, and minorities are said to be disproportionately affected.

The state said the new 9% figure is likely an overestimate, as it includes voters without driver's licenses who have other forms of acceptable ID, like identification cards issued by accredited Pennsylvania colleges or care facilities, valid U.S. passports, and military identification. It also includes voters with driver's licenses whose names differ on their voter registrations.

"We feel it's probably around 10%, not 9%," said John Jordan, director of civic engagement of the Pennsylvania NAACP. "Even if the numbers are right on point, you're still talking about 758,000 Pennsylvanians that are possibly going to be disenfranchised November 6," he said.

The state said it will contact all voters without identification numbers by sending a letter explaining the new voter law, which IDs are acceptable, and how a voter without a proper ID can get a free one, but opponents to the law contend this doesn't do enough.

"There are people in Pittsburgh who may not know who the coach is for the Pittsburgh Steelers," Stevens said. "My point is, whatever marketing the Department of State does on the issue of voter ID, there will be millions of people across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania who will not have heard about it."

On that front, both the NAACP and B-PEP have stepped up their efforts on the ground by collaborating with churches and state-funded higher education to inform voters in Pittsburgh and across the state.

Both groups still cling to the idea that the law may be overturned pending a ruling on a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, but for now, Pennsylvania is one of 30 states to enact some form of voter ID law and one of 5 states that require a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.