In March, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring all registered voters to show a valid and “acceptable” photo ID before voting. This is one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. Voter advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, challenged the new requirement and closed their arguments in Commonwealth Court Thursday.
Across the country, 30 states have enacted some type of voter ID reform and it has become a hot button issue in an election year. Pennsylvania is no exception. Supporters say the laws prevent voter fraud; critics say the laws are a political tricks to disenfranchise voters.
Here is a guide to the debate:
What’s the purpose of the law?
According to proponents of the law, including State Senator Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th District) who introduced the Pennsylvania bill, the law is meant to prevent voter fraud.
Who does it affect?
In Pennsylvania, nearly 760,000 registered voters, or 9.2 percent of the state's 8.2 million voter base, don't own state-issued ID cards, according to an analysis of state records by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
, fall into the top five counties that have registered voters without photo IDs, along with Philadelphia (186,830), Allegheny (99,218) and Delaware (40,547) counties, according to the Pennsylvania State Department.
What’s the controversy?
Those opposing the law say it disproportionately targets the elderly as well as the poor and minorities, who typically vote democratic. Furthermore, critics say that the burden of obtaining an acceptable ID for these people would keep them from voting.
How rampant is voter fraud?
Well, apparently not too much. In a stipulation agreement signed earlier this month, state officials conceded that they had no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud, or even any reason to believe that such crimes would occur with more frequency if a voter ID law wasn't in effect, Huffington Post reports.
In 2007, the New York Times reported it had identified 120 cases of voter fraud nationwide filed by the Justice Department over five years that resulted in 86 convictions.
What will the court challenge determine?
Since the state stipulates that it has no evidence of voter fraud, the case in front of the Commonwealth Court is to decide whether the law is violates the state constitution, whether state lawmakers have the power to enact such a strict law.
Beyond the court challenge, the U.S. Department of Justice has also launched an investigation into Pa.’s new voter ID law based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
What makes the issue so political?
Prior to the 2006 elections, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls (or elsewhere) in order to vote, according to this report by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. In 2006, Indiana became the first state in the nation to requie ID, and that law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. And except for Rhode Island, all voter ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-majority legislatures, including Pennsylvania’s.
The Brennan report also notes that since the 2010 mid-tern election, when republicans made big gains, voter ID law became a “major legislative policy.” Democrats say voter ID laws are a political tactic to keep democratic voters from the polls.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson plans to issue a ruling on the case the week of Aug. 13. Senior Pa. Deputy Attorney General Patrick Canley, who is defending the law in court, and ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, who is fighting against the law, say they will appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court if they lose.
For a look at the national debate: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws