New GOP-Backed Voter ID Law Could Keep 43 Percent Of Philly Voters From Polls

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The voter ID law passed by the GOP-controlled legislature in Pennsylvania could keep nearly half of registered voters in heavily Democratic Philadelphia from casting a ballot, according to new state data.

About 437,237 registered voters in Philly either lack a state-issued ID or have one that has expired before Nov. 6 of last year, which would make it invalid in the upcoming elections under Pennsylvania’s new law, according to state data obtained by the AFL-CIO. As first reported by Philadelphia City Paper, that number represents 43 percent of registered voters in the city, the highest in any county statewide.

Yuri Beckelman of the AFL-CIO told TPM officials “did a double take” and when they obtained the data under Pennsylvania’s public information law. Previous data disclosed by the state, which didn’t include those with expired ID, indicated over 758,000 registered voters had no state-issued ID, while the new data (including those with expired IDs) raises that number to over 1.6 million, or 20 percent of state voters.

When broken down by county, the percentage of Philadelphia voters who lack a current form of Pennsylvania-issued identification far outnumbers any other part of the state, though the percentage of voters without such ID tops 20 percent in counties like Lehigh, Allegeny, Delaware and Fayette.Pennsylvania officials argue that those who don’t have a state-issued ID could have some other form of valid photo identification such as a passport, an ID issued by a federal agency or identification issued by a Pennsylvania college or university and therefore still be eligible to vote.

Nick Winkler, a spokesman with Pennsylvania’s Department of State, told TPM that they would be focusing their efforts to educate voters about the new law on Philadelphia and other areas or demographics that don’t have ID. He rebuffed a question on whether a Republican administration would have much motivation to educate voters who live in overwhelmingly Democratic areas about the law.

“That’s a terrible assumption to make. We are charged as an agency to make sure that all 8.2 million voters have the right to vote,” Winkler said. “The only ones bringing politics into our agency are the ones who want to make an issue out of it. Our secretary has made it clear from the start that her administration is focused on all 8.2 million people.”

“For even that assumption to be made, that’s very irresponsible for that question to be even asked, for a secretary who represents all 8.2 million people,” Winkler told TPM.

The number of Pennsylvania voters who most likely lack a valid form of photo identification now doubles President Barack Obama’s margin of victory in the Keystone state in 2008. A group contracted to educate voters about the new law is stacked with Republicans and is headed by a bundler for Mitt Romney.

As first reported by TPM, the Justice Department is investigating Pennsylvania’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans voting practices which result “in the denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” Civil rights organizations are also challenging the voter ID law in a state court trial that was starting Wednesday. Pennsylvania admitted they have absolutely no evidence that in-person voter fraud had taken place or was likely to take place if the law wasn’t in place.

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