Six months before Pennsylvania’s new voter identification bill became law, Denise Lieberman helped file an open records request with the state asking for a list of Pennsylvanians who already have the proper identification card. The law — signed in March by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — requires voters to present government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote in elections. A civil rights lawyer with the advocacy group Advancement Project, Ms. Lieberman planned to compare a list of Pennsylvania voters with the state’s record of those with proper identification. The comparison would show exactly how many voters wouldn’t be allowed to vote under the new law. The request was denied. The state doesn’t have to provide the record, the denial letter says, because the record doesn’t exist. “How can a legislator have any idea what they’re voting on if they have no idea how many people are being affected?” Ms. Lieberman said. “If we’re talking about imposing rigorous restrictions on voting, then there’s legitimate value in having a sense of who stands to be affected and how.”
When the Republican-controlled state Legislature passed the controversial bill, it estimated that some 90,000 voters would have to get new IDs or be turned away at the polls, including at this November’s presidential election. But the estimate has taken criticism from Democrats and civil rights groups for being poorly calculated and unverifiable by the general public. Republicans say they got the estimate from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent agency of the federal government that arrived at the number by examining Census data.
More specific figures would help courts rule in the barrage of legal challenges currently in the works to overturn the law before November’s election. Estimates of affected voters range from 90,000 to as many as 300,000, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. “It may be very easy to go to the DMV here in Pittsburgh and get an ID, but somebody who doesn’t have access to a motor vehicle, or who lives in suburban or rural Pennsylvania, might not have the opportunity to just drop into the DMV office,” he said. Other voters might not have the paperwork needed to get an identification card, such as a birth certificate.