Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele had a message for the hundreds of people gathered at the State Capitol yesterday to rally against voter ID laws: “Go home” and find ways to make their fellow citizens comply with the state’s controversial law. “We hope that some of the people who are outside would go home from this rally,” said Aichele during a closed-door press conference. “Focus that energy, go home and find five people who need transportation to a [driver’s license] ID center and take those people to get photo identification.” Today, a court will begin hearing arguments in a case to determine whether the state’s voters must in fact carry Aichele’s burden. Ten Pennsylvania residents will seek to demonstrate how the state denied them ID for voting purposes, thereby showing the harmful effect of the law that is required to knock it down. The voters’ lawyers are seeking an injunction to stop the law due to the problems it poses for hundreds of thousands of voters. For an injunction, they don’t have to prove the law violates voters’ rights. They need only to convince a judge that there are too many unresolved issues with the law that deserve deeper scrutiny. The legal push and pull over voter ID laws has moved through a growing number of states, as federal and state courts weigh the laws’ constitutionality. The fight in Pennsylvania, like an earlier one in Wisconsin, stands out in that plaintiffs believe they’ll be able to show clear harm to specific groups of people, including along racial lines.
Testifying against the state will be Matt Barreto, director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality, who surveyed over 1,285 Pennsylvanians and found disproportionate burdens on multiple voting populations, including Latinos, women, the elderly and those of very low income. If Barreto’s research is correct, then 1.3 million Pennsylvanians, or 14.4 percent of the voter-eligible population, lack ID—that’s twice as large as the number of votes President Obama earned in the state in 2008. Aichele’s office originally said that only 1 percent of voters, or about 88,000, lacked ID, but then later released figures suggesting that 9.2 percent of voters, or 759,000, didn’t have state-issued photo ID. Yesterday, Aichele said they’re back to sticking with the 88,000 number.
The Department of Justice has requested information from Aichele’s office about the numbers of eligible voters lacking ID and their racial demographics. Aichele said at the press conference, “We will comply with the request from the Department of Justice and provide the information they have requested.” DOJ’s intervention in the state is unique (for a lot of reasons) because unlike the other states they’ve interrogated for passing questionable voter laws—Texas, South Carolina and Florida—Pennsylvania doesn’t need their pre-clearance. Those other states have histories of discrimination at the polls and are considered “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The investigation into Pennsylvania is being done under Section 2, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or language, whether by intention or impact.