New Castle News

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September 15, 2012

John K. Manna: Ruling on voter identification law may, or may not, have impact

NEW CASTLE — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling on the state’s voter identification law could have a major impact on the November election.

And maybe not.

This week the court heard arguments about the legality of the law that requires voters to have a valid government photo ID.

Despite opposition by various groups, and Democrats in particular, a lower court upheld the law.

The Supreme Court has six members who are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Although justices are supposed to rule on the law, is there the possibility of a tie vote that would allow the lower court’s ruling to stand?

Democrats have argued that there is no basis to have such a requirement since there has been no evidence of voter fraud at the polls. Republicans have confirmed that, but say it’s no reason not to have such a law to prevent fraud.

Opponents of the law have also argued that the law could disenfranchise thousands of poor and elderly voters who don’t have a valid photo ID.

A story by RealClearPolitics this week, however, provides some revelations on that point. A volunteer for President Obama in Cumberland County who has canvassed elderly or disabled residents said she has made hundreds of calls and not one person has said they didn’t have ID, according to the story.

This obviously is a small sample, but it may be indicative of similar situations statewide.

The law allows voters who don’t have a valid photo ID to obtain one free of charge at driver’s license centers. According to the story, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has issued fewer than 8,000 IDs to people without driver’s licenses.

Earlier this summer, Department of State reported that nearly 759,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania did not have IDs issued by PennDOT. However, that didn’t necessarily mean all of those voters didn’t have another valid government photo ID.

Nonetheless, it’s highly probable that a lot of those voters do not have a valid ID. The question is whether all without an ID will be able to obtain a valid one by the Oct. 9 registration deadline.

And that’s a critical point, which is why some  have suggested implementation of the law be delayed. The state, at the very least, needs to allow anyone who makes the effort to obtain an ID at a driver’s license center the opportunity to get one.


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