As opponents of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, or Act 18, await a final decision by Judge Robert Simpson, the results of a recent study regarding the expected impact of the law were announced this week.
During a teleconference on the validity of the law, Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, said that original state estimates were wrong. Reeves said the research shows that as many as 400,000 eligible voters would be turned away from the polls in November because they lack proper identification.
“We surveyed 227 actual voters who participated in the last primary election,” Reeves said. “Of that number, 49 percent were African-American, 18 percent Latino and the rest a mix of other ethnicities. We wanted to know if the voter ID law was being implemented fairly and evenly. What we found were half of the voters surveyed were asked to show a valid photo ID. Fifty-nine percent had a driver’s license, 13 percent had some form of military ID and 3 percent had employee photo identification. There were 4 percent of those who turned out that had no photo ID at all. That 4 percent translates into 400,000 eligible voters who would be barred from voting. The survey also showed that the 4 percent who had no photo ID were non-white — none of the white respondents were affected. Clearly that shows there is some racial disparity here, and we have a lot of work left to do in order to educate voters.”
Democratic State Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams, Vincent Hughes and NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous were also on hand for the teleconference and offered their insights into how the Voter ID law would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Jealous said that voter suppression was always the intent behind the legislation, and Williams referred to it as one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said. “These are the facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
According to Reeves, his research team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also polled voters in Allegheny and Butler counties and the August 7 special elections, taking random surveys. The surveys determined that enforcement of the law was arbitrary and 4 percent of those voters — all people of color — possessed no forms of valid photo identification at all.
Jealous said voter suppression, particularly of African Americans and other minorities — segments of the population most inclined to vote for Barack Obama in November — was always the intention.
“The 4 percent number suggests those who would be affected by this is much larger than the state suggested,” Jealous said. “This says to me that senior citizens, many of whom fought against the Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, would be significantly affected — and after so long now they’re going to see that repeat itself. This report shows that was the intent of the law, Senator Mike Turzai said that was the intent and if not for the courts this will be successful.”
In June, Republican State Sen. Mike Turzai stated during a party function that the state’s Voter ID law would help presidential candidate Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania. In August, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, also a Republican, upheld the law. Simpson stated in his decision that opponents who were asking for an injunction that would halt its implementation didn’t adequately demonstrate that voters would be adversely affected.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which challenged the law, appealed to the State Supreme Court, who, in a ruling on Sept. 18, kicked the decision back to Simpson. Ruling 4 to 2, the justices ordered Simpson to consider whether or not all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. The high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2nd.
“This is empirical evidence of what Turzai stated, and what we and my colleagues have been saying all along. This is all about assisting Romney through voter suppression,” said Hughes. “This is real evidence of what the actual intent was, and shows that the state is nowhere near ready to implement this failed law, which is what it is. Even if all the data was in place, when we escort people to PennDot centers to get their state photo ID’s, they get mixed and conflicting information about what they need. There are significant problems here. At best this law needs to be thrown out, and at worst, its implantation should be halted.”