HARRISBURG -- A political scientist hired by challengers of the new voter ID law testified in court Thursday that many Pennsylvanians -- but particularly those who are poor, uneducated, young or elderly, female and Hispanic -- lack the documents required at the polls this November.
A coalition of groups seeking to stop the law from taking effect spent much of the second day of a Commonwealth Court hearing on the testimony of Matt Barreto, an associate professor at the University of Washington who designed a survey to examine the impact of the Pennsylvania statute. The challengers, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, argue the Republican-backed law will disenfranchise eligible voters in an attempt to stop a form of voter fraud that they say does not exist. Attorneys for the state have agreed they know of no cases of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, but they point to the prevalence of photo identification in society and say the Legislature needs no proof of fraud to satisfy its constitutional burden.
Mr. Barreto, who has designed other surveys about voter ID laws, testified Thursday that the Pennsylvania study found many residents incorrectly believe they possess the documents to vote. In fact, the study found, 14.4 percent of eligible voters -- and 12.6 percent of those who voted in the 2008 general election -- lack a valid form of photo identification.
Poor people and those with low levels of formal education will be most impacted by the law, the study found, along with women, Latinos, the elderly, the young and city dwellers.
At 18.7 percent, Allegheny County led the regions studied in the rate of eligible voters without acceptable identification, followed by Philadelphia at 17.8 percent. The other regions isolated by the study followed, with 12.9 percent of eligible voters in the northeast, 12.4 percent in the Philadelphia suburbs and 13.5 percent in the remainder of the state lacking an acceptable ID.
The rates were produced by considering which eligible voters reported they possess an approved photo ID with an expiration date making it valid for voting in November and which matches their full legal name. The voter ID law requires that the name on the identification "substantially conforms" to the name on the voter rolls. Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley suggested the study wrongly assumes people whose names do not match will be prevented from voting.
Across the state, the study found 27.6 percent of eligible voters without usable identification also lack one of the underlying documents needed to get identification from the Department of Transportation. The study, designed by Mr. Barreto and a collaborator, Gabriel Sanchez, an associate professor at the University of New Mexico, was conducted in late June and early July -- before the Department of State announced a new form of voter ID for people who lack the underlying documents, such as a birth certificate, needed to get a state-issued ID.
But Mr. Barreto testified that the creation of a new form of ID is unlikely to reach all the people who need it. His survey found only 62.7 percent of eligible Pennsylvania voters -- and 65.8 percent of 2008 voters -- knew about the new requirement three months after it became law.
The results showed an overwhelming majority -- 97.8 percent of eligible voters and 98.7 percent of 2008 voters -- believed they had a valid ID. In fact, 13.1 percent of eligible voters and 11.8 percent of 2008 voters thought they had a valid photo ID but actually did not.
"For the average person, they do possess some sort of ID card, and they do believe that ID card is valid," Mr. Barreto said, adding that such a person is unlikely to seek a new form of identification.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice notified the state that it is reviewing the voter ID law for compliance with a section of the Voting Rights Act banning discrimination against racial or linguistic minorities. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives criticized the Justice Department's scrutiny of voter ID laws in several states as partisan and showing a disinterest in fraud. Thomas Perez, the department's chief civil rights enforcer, said the department was acting to ensure eligible voters have access to the ballot, according to the AP.
The survey found 88.5 percent of male eligible voters have a valid photo ID compared with 82.8 percent of female eligible voters. Mr. Barreto said the disparity is due in part to women changing their names at marriage without updating all their legal documents. It also found lower rates of possession of valid IDs among eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 34 and those 75 and older, than among their counterparts between the ages of 35 and 74.
Among the most dramatic correlation was that associated with income level. Of eligible voters who reported less than $20,000 annual household income, 22 percent did not have a valid photo ID, compared with 8.2 percent of eligible voters whose households earn $80,000 or more annually.
Judge Robert Simpson told the court Wednesday he plans to make a decision by mid-August to allow time for Supreme Court appeals.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141.