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Early Signs That PA Voter I.D. Law Is Already Wreaking Havoc

March 30, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Corbett signed into law one of the most restrictive voter i.d. laws in the country. The same day, I posted a piece on the law and Bar Association Chancellor John Savoth published a critical letter in the Inquirer. These public criticisms were in line with the Bar Association’s longstanding official position against more stringent voter i.d. requirements. As I noted previously, such requirements are costly, inefficient, and have been shown to significant disenfranchising effects, particularly upon vulnerable communities such as seniors, students, and the poor.

Unfortunately, the first signs of these disenfranchising effects are already becoming apparent.  The Inquirer reported last week that underinformed, misinformed and otherwise stymied prospective voters are already numerous. For example, some people have been led to believe they need some i.d. in addition to a driver’s license. The law’s fee-waiver provision is obscure and complicated, but currently unsupported by any formal awareness-promotion scheme. Worst of all, the thousands of people in the Philadelphia area without birth certificates, particularly senior citizens, are encountering difficulties acquiring copies in order to obtain identification satisfying the voter i.d. law’s stringent requirements. In a cruel catch-22, many need i.d. in order to get official birth certificate copies. Such broad vote-suppression effects are common with other forms of complicated voter qualification bureaucracy. Meanwhile, WHYY’s Newsworks reports that many college students are likely to be turned away from the polls because they don’t realize their college i.d. cards do not meet the i.d. law’s requirement of an expiration date. Although some efforts to mitigate those vote-suppressing effects are underway, it already seems, sadly, that large-scale disenfranchisement in November is an inevitability—possibly even for some seniors who have faithfully voted in every election since World War II.

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