More voters without ID than suspected

New analysis yields different results

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HARRISBURG -- Fewer Pennsylvania registered voters hold driver's licenses or other Department of Transportation identification than the administration has said throughout its successful push to require photo ID at the polls, according to a new analysis by the Department of State.

The administration consistently has said that 99 percent of eligible voters have an acceptable form of identification. It produced that statistic by comparing the number of citizens of voting age in the 2010 census with the number of Pennsylvanians with driver's licenses or other forms of ID issued by PennDOT, according to Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State.

But earlier this week the Department of State announced that a more detailed analysis had found that only 91 percent of the names on the voter registration rolls matched someone in the PennDOT databases, leaving 758,939 registered voters without a match. The department compared the names as it prepares to send letters to voters without PennDOT ID, informing them of the new law and instructing them on how to get a free ID if they do not have one.

The department cautioned that 22 percent of those voters are considered inactive, in most cases because they have not voted since before the past two federal elections. Many are former college students who moved after graduating, Mr. Ruman said.

Other voters may not have turned up in the PennDOT databases because of slight variations between the name on their voter registration and the name on their driver's license or other ID, Mr. Ruman said. Such a variation might not prevent the person from voting, because the law requires only that the name on the identification "substantially conforms" to that on the voter registry.

And the comparison does not account for voters who hold other forms of valid identification, such as photo IDs issued by the state or federal governments, Pennsylvania colleges, nursing homes and county or municipal employers.

Still, critics pointed to the announcement as further evidence that the law could disenfranchise registered voters. Witold Walczak, legal director of the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the administration's decision to use an initial estimate that was not more fine-tuned. The 99 percent figure did not, for instance, account for people with driver's licenses who are not registered to vote.

"It was kind of a nonsensical analysis that could not produce a valid number," he said.

The ACLU and other groups are suing the state in an attempt to stop the law from taking effect before the November elections.

In Allegheny County, the new data shows 99,218 registered voters lack PennDOT identification, with 73,791 of those considered active voters. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat, said the law will force election workers to tell neighbors they cannot vote.

"People are going to be mad," he said. "They're going to be yelling. ... They've been voting for over 30 years, and now all of a sudden someone's telling them they can't vote."

The Allegheny County Board of Elections filed a lawsuit last week saying the law will impose additional costs on the county, he said.

Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republicans, said the larger estimate of voters without PennDOT identification was not a cause for concern. He noted the other forms of identification that can be used at the polls.

"We look at this legislation as something that will enfranchise more voters than ever," he said. "Already you're seeing religious organizations, nonprofit organizations putting together not just registration drives but identification registration drives. That's exactly the way it should be working."

Voters can get more information about the new law by visiting www.VotesPA.com or calling 1-877-VOTESPA (1-877-868-3772).

state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141


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