Pennsylvania has refused to turn over documents that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) had sought in order to determine whether the state’s new polling place Photo ID restriction law is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other federal laws. As previously reported by The BRAD BLOG, on July 23, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez submitted afour-page letter [PDF] to Carol Aichele, the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (coincidentally, the wife of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Chief of Staff), requesting information in electronic format for 16 broad categories of documents that the DoJ felt were needed to evaluate whether the Keystone State’s Photo ID law complied with federal laws barring discriminatory election laws. In an Aug. 17 letter [PDF], the Commonwealth’s General Counsel, James D. Schultz, responded to Perez, by telling him that PA would not comply with what Schultz described as an “unprecedented attempt to compel [PA], a state not within the purview Section 5 of the VRA, to present information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA.”
Section 5 of the VRA requires some 16 different jurisdictions in the U.S., with a history of racial discrimination, to get pre-clearance for new election-related laws. Pennsylvania is not one of those jurisdictions. However, all 50 states are barred from instituting discriminatory laws under Section 2 of the act. Schultz accused the DoJ of targeting “a growing number of states…simply because they instituted legislation designed to insure the integrity of the voting process”
The Commonwealth’s General Counsel wrote that Pennsylvania’s Photo ID law was “nearly identical to the Indiana law” that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Crawford vs. Marion County Board of Elections (2008). He argued that any questions about compliance with voting rights laws were “resoundingly answered” by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision [PDF] in Applewhite vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — a state constitutional challenge to the GOP’s Photo ID law — as issued last week.