Pennsylvania's voter ID law will be scoured
HARRISBURG — The Justice Department is investigating whether Pennsylvania's voter ID law discriminates against minorities, an agency spokesman said Monday.
The Justice Department sent a three-page letter to Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, a member of Gov. Tom Corbett's Cabinet, notifying her of the probe and requesting documents, records and databases. Michael Passman, an official with the Office of Public Affairs, provided the letter.
Neither Aichele nor her spokesman was available, and the governor's office was unaware of the letter.
The federal agency is investigating the law, which is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others to be heard beginning Wednesday in Commonwealth Court.
Challenges to state voting laws by the federal government are typically reserved for states that have had a history of discrimination, such as those in the South.
The Justice Department investigation in Pennsylvania centers on a section of the law that prevents states from enacting measures that result in denial of rights to vote on “account of race, color, or membership in language minority groups,” according to the Department of Justice web page.
Depending what investigators find, the probe could result in a new legal front for Pennsylvania — another challenge while the Commonwealth Court case is decided.
On Tuesday, groups including the NAACP plan to rally against the law.
Supporters, including Corbett and GOP legislative leaders, said the Pennsylvania law complied with a Supreme Court ruling and was needed to combat fraud and ensure the integrity of each vote. Opponents said there is no evidence of voter fraud and compared the legislation to a “poll tax.”
Corbett signed the bill on March 15. The April primary was considered a “dry run” for the Nov. 6 general election when the law kicks in requiring anyone wishing to vote to show a proper photo ID at the polls.
A Pennsylvania driver's license is acceptable as ID, as is military, university, municipal government and nursing home ID. The Corbett administration said free ID will be provided to people who do not have one.
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.
Nancy Mills Patton, chairwoman of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, said the new voter ID requirements are unnecessary “because we believe there never has been an issue with voter fraud.“As far as we are concerned, this is about voter suppression,” she said. “If there was a problem with voter fraud, I'm sure Gov. Corbett would have been going after it during the eight years he was state attorney general.”
Patton said the party is “working every day” to make sure that people who do not have proper ID obtain one prior to the general election.
David J. Majernik, vice chairman of the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, said he “can't understand” the opposition to a law that tries to preserve the integrity of the voting process.
“I believe voter fraud is rampant, but we don't have enough law enforcement to pursue cases when they have more pressing issues to deal with,” he said.
Majernik balked at the suggestion that some voters will be disenfranchised.
“People need ID for all sorts of things, from driving, cashing a check, getting on an airplane or checking into a hotel,” he said, adding that “there has been plenty of time” for those who do not have proper ID to obtain one.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Tony LaRussa contributed to this report.