U.S Department of Justice Launches Investigation into PA Voter ID Law

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

The U.S Department of Justice has begun a formal investigation on the legality of Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID Law, which was passed in March of this year. The law, which we have blogged about before, stipulates that voters must show certain approved forms of ID before voting in every election. The law is under investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department for its unequal effect on minority voters in the state.

Carol Aichele, Secretary of the Commonwealth and the chief election official in Pennsylvania, received a three page letter on Monday, July 23rd from Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General. In the letter, Perez “requested state data on registered voters as well as the state’s list of individuals with driver’s licenses and ID cards.” The Department of Justice has also asked for information about Pennsylvania’s “efforts to educate voters about the new law.” The state has 30 days to compile all the requested information and send it to the Justice Department. 

According to Politico, while it isn’t clear what triggered the Department of Justice’s investigation, the letter does refer to a statement made by Aichele “indicating that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters don’t have a state-issued photo ID.” Pennsylvania has stated that “more than 758,000 voters may be disenfranchised” because they lack a correct form of ID, which also includes passports, military ID, and certain student IDs.

This is the first time the Department of Justice has investigated a state not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This section “requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their voting laws pre-cleared.” Two states that fall under this section, Texas and South Carolina, are currently facing opposition from the Department of Justice to their voter ID laws.

The investigation into Pennsylvania’s law falls instead under Section 2 of the VRA, which bars any state from enacting a “voting standard, practice, or procedure that results 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.”

The law is also being challenged in a lawsuit before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, and an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is likely.  While opponents of the law wait to hear whether it will go into effect for the November 2012 election, they are focusing on educating the public and on helping those in need obtain proper IDs in the hopes that such efforts can decrease the law’s harmful effects.

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