Up until now, efforts to ferret out the war on voting have been highlighted mostly in Florida, where Governor Rick Scott is attempting to carry out a widespread purge of the voting rolls. But given this set of information from my old hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, I think we have to add Pennsylvania, also under a new Republican governor, into the mix.
More than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department, putting their voting rights at risk in the November election, according to data released Tuesday by state election officials.
The figures – representing 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters – are significantly higher than prior estimates by the Corbett administration. Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele has repeatedly said that 99 percent of Pennsylvania’s voters already had the photo ID they will need at the polls in November.
The new numbers, based on a comparison of voter registration rolls with PennDot ID databases, shows the potential problem is much bigger, particularly in Philadelphia, where 186,830 registered voters – 18 percent of the city’s total registration – do not have PennDot ID.
Let me draw on my vast store of knowledge about the Keystone State to explain that the focus on Philadelphia is particularly important. Democrats win in Pennsylvania pretty much entirely by running up the score in the two major metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. And Philly means more to that than Pittsburgh. If 18% of the city – which is 44% African-American, almost a plurality – has no PennDot ID, and if they will not be authorized to vote, that’s a major blow to President Obama’s efforts in the state.
And Republicans know this. Pennsylvania is the state where the leader of the House GOP, Mike Turzai, told a crowd that the voter ID law “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Delawarean Dave Weigel concurs with this analysis, by using some actual numbers:
In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by the biggest majority of any candidate since 1972 — 620,478 votes. So, the total number of voters lacking ID is greater than that. Most of Obama’s margin came from his landslide in Philadelphia County — 478,759 votes over John McCain. So, the total voter bloc that lacks valid ID is about 39 percent as large as the Obama-McCain margin.
You see the problem for Obama. It’s entirely possible that, on election day, a majority of Pennsylvanians will want to vote for the Democrat, but a few hundred thousand of them will lack the tools to do so under the new ID law.
And these laws were put in place by Republican majorities warning about the non-existent threat of voter fraud. Kevin Drum’s linked article details the history here.
The American Civil Liberties Union is pursuing a lawsuit against the voter ID law in Pennsylvania. A Commonwealth court judge will hear arguments on July 25. Observers expect the state Supreme Court to hear the case before November. But success is anyone’s guess, especially with precedent from the US Supreme Court authorizing Indiana’s voter ID law. And if the law is sustained, hundreds of thousands of voters will have to scramble to get proper ID over the next four months.