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'Voting Rights Act' Violation? US Probes Pennsylvania's New Voter ID Law

Over 800,000 voters could be denied poll access as Gov. Corbett insists disenfranchisement will not occur

Common Dreams staff

The Civil Rights Division of the US Dept. of Justice, using specific statues contained in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has opened an investigation into the Pennsylvania voter ID law that could prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible citizens from participating in this year's November election.

On Monday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the DOJ sent a letter to state officials asking them to provide evidence of their repeated claim that "99 percent of the state's voters have the photo identification they will need" to vote in this year's election.

The Justice Department said (pdf) it needed the information "so that we may properly evaluate Pennsylvania's compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting-rights laws."

Claims by Republican Gov. Corbett and his administration that only a few Pennsylvanians would be impacted by the new restrictions have continued despite reports -- based on figures from the state's Transportation Department released earlier this month -- that indicate close to 800,000 registered voters do not have a state-issued identification card.

Republican lawmakers pushed the bill through the legislature in March and it was signed into law by Corbett. Democrats protested the bill, arguing that the measure would disenfranchise thousands of voters, disproportionately affecting those without driver's licenses - the poor, the elderly, and the young.

According to the Inquirer:

The items requested by the federal government include the state's complete voter-registration list - identifying the state's 8.2 million voters by their names and addresses, dates of birth, party affiliations, and voting histories - and the state Transportation Department's full list of people holding driver's licenses and nondriver photo IDs, the most common form of photo identification that will meet the demands of the state's new voting law.

It was the reported mismatch between those two databases - Aichele's July 3 statement that up to 758,000 voters statewide, about 9.2 percent of the electorate, did not have PennDot identification - that has refueled concern over whether the new law would disenfranchise thousands of legitimate voters.

Another data set, distributed last week to county election boards without any public announcement, disclosed that thousands of additional voters could lose their voting rights because their PennDot ID expired last year or earlier.

In an unrelated but connected challenge, the ACLU and other rights groups concerned with voter disenfranchisement will appear in court this week as part of a suit which argues the new ID law is a violation of the Pennsylvania constitution.

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