With the trial against Voter ID set to begin tomorrow, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has launched a formal federal investigation into the state’s ID law to determine whether it discriminates against minorities.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
The Justice Department asked for any records supporting the statement this month by Aichele that about 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania lack state-issued ID.
Other documents requested include:
• The current voter registration list, including voter history and race.
• Complete list of drivers licenses and personal ID cards.
• Databases identifying registered voters who lack acceptable proof of identification.
• Any documents supporting Corbett’s March 14 claim that 99 percent of eligible voters have valid ID.
The state’s PennDOT database shows that this last claim is not true, with over 750,000 voters lacking an adequate form of ID. Slate noted earlier this month that the President’s margin of victory over John McCain was 620,478 votes, meaning that the number of people without ID is greater than that.
However, a significant chunk of those voters – about 168,000 of them – are classified as “inactive,” meaning they have not voted in the last four years. It is likely that a lot of them are college students who have since moved, according to Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.
Backlash over the law has prompted officials to make some changes over the past few months, including an announcement by the Department of State last week that they would be issuing an ID card for voting purposes only – designed to make it easier for people to obtain the ID because it requires only knowing one’s SSN and presenting two documents to prove residency.
These cards will be valid for 10 years, also at no charge, and can be obtained at any PennDOT Driver’s License Center.
In the upcoming case, both sides – the Corbett administration and the plaintiffs (Viviette Applewhite et al, as well as the ACLU) have agreed to some stipulations about the case.
Both sides agreed that there have been no prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in the state, that the Corbett administration will not offer evidence to show in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, and that the defendants will not argue that in-person voter fraud would occur in November in the absence of the Voter ID law. Neither the Governor nor Attorney General will testify at the hearing.
The “in-person” fraud label matters because most cases of investigated voter fraud in the state deal with absentee ballot voting, something not addressed by the Voter ID law.
Federal government challenges to state voting laws have historically been reserved for southern states, those with a proclivity for discrimination falling under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that requires those states to have their voting law changes pre-approved.
But this challenge falls under Section 2, which requires PA to prove that the “proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group.”
And it doesn’t stop there.
Today at 1 p.m. the PA NAACP is hosting a protest rally against Voter ID – “Rally for Justice” – at the state Capitol.
This protest, along with the Department of Justice investigation and the ACLU lawsuit, will likely continue to fuel the fire over whether there is a racial element to the law – something its critics have been saying exists all along.