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Could Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Help Romney Win Race? Up to 1 Million Voters Face Disenfranchisement

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With less than two months to go before the November election, we look a new voter ID law in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Studies have shown as many as one million eligible voters in the state do not have an acceptable identification under the new law, which requires all voters to show a state driver’s license, government employee ID or a non-driver ID card issued by the state. In Philadelphia, it has been estimated that 18 percent of voters lack the proper ID. At least one Republican politician, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, has already boasted that the new voter ID law will help Mitt Romney win the state. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow the controversial law to go into effect or to approve a preliminary injunction. For more, we speak with two guests: Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and one of the co-counsels who argued the case, and Jessie Allen, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the sixth city of our 100-city Silenced Majority community media and college tour. Tonight I’ll be speaking at Oberlin College at the First Church at 8:00; tomorrow, Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, that’s at noon; and we’ll also be in Athens, [Ohio], at University of Ohio on Saturday night. Cleveland and other cities are coming up.

As we turn now to our first segment. With less than two months to go before the November 6 election, we begin today’s show with a look at a new voter ID law here in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Studies have shown as many 750,000 eligible voters in the state do not have an acceptable ID under the new law, which requires all voters to show a state driver’s license, government employee ID, or a non-driver ID card issued by the state. In Philadelphia, it’s been estimated 18 percent of voters lack the proper ID. At least one Republican politician has already boosted that the new voter ID law will help Mitt Romney win the state.

STATE REP. MICHAEL TURZAI: Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania—done.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow the controversial law to go into effect or to approve a preliminary injunction. One plaintiff in the case is longtime voter Wilola Lee, who was born in rural Georgia before moving to Philadelphia in 1957. In this video produced by the ACLU, she explains how she cannot get a photo ID because Georgia kept no record of her birth.

WILOLA LEE: I used to work on the polls, handed out the literatures for people to vote. Well, I’ve been voting ever since I was 18, mm-hmm. I won’t be able to vote, because I don’t have the proper photo ID. I’ve been trying for 10 years to get my photo ID. And behind it, I was been born in Georgia. And for some reason, they say that they can’t find it. I don’t think it’s fair. I really don’t really believe that it’s really, really fair, because I feel as though there’s so many people that can’t get their—you know, get their photo IDs. And it’s not fair to them, you know, some people that’s been voting for so many years, you know, that they can’t vote now.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Pennsylvania resident Wilola Lee. Meanwhile, the state of Pennsylvania has begun airing television advertisements like this one, that are meant to simply inform those who have an ID to bring it with them to the polls.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 1: If you care about this election.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 2: If you care about this election.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 3: If you have an opinion.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 4: If you want a voice.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 5: If you want a voice.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 2: If you want to make a difference.

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 1: If you want to vote, then show it.




VOTESPA AD: To vote in Pennsylvania on Election Day, you need an acceptable photo ID with a valid expiration date. Learn more at 1-877-VOTES-PA, or visit

PENNSYLVANIA VOTER 2: If you care about this country, it’s time to show it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more on the controversy over Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, I’m joined by two guests. In Philadelphia, Vic Walczak is with us, the legal director for the state’s ACLU, one of the co-counsels on the case argued before the state Supreme Court on Thursday. And here in Pittsburgh, Jessie Allen, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She has litigated voting rights cases in federal courts in the past and recently wrote an op-ed for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “Look at the History of Voter ID: A Case Cited to Support Pennsylvania’s New Voter ID Law Instead Calls It into Question.”

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Vic in Philadelphia. You just argued this case before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Explain what happened yesterday in court.

VIC WALCZAK: Well, it was a good argument. The justices were very well prepared. They were very interested in what was going on. And there have, at this point, been thousands of pages of legal argument filed in the various briefs, but the inescapable point that’s out there is that, thus far, since March, the state has only issued about 7,000 IDs to vote, and even the lowest estimate of people who don’t have ID in the state—and this comes from the state—is 100,000. And the state has said repeatedly they don’t expect to issue more than a few thousand more IDs. So you’re looking at a huge gap in the number of people who don’t have the kind of ID they need to vote. So, come Election Day, it’s going to be a mess. And that number could be as high as a million people here in Pennsylvania.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the questioning on the part of—was it a six-judge panel?

VIC WALCZAK: It is a six-judge panel. Ironically, one of the seven justices has stepped down temporarily. She’s a justice out of Pittsburgh. And she has been indicted on campaign-related fraud. So, certainly, there is fraud related to elections, but the kind of fraud that would be prevented by photo ID is virtually nonexistent.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the questioning on the part of the three Republican, three Democratic judges? Where were they going yesterday?

VIC WALCZAK: Yeah, the justices—the Democratic justices were really pointing out that there’s no reason for this law to be in effect this November, given that the state has admitted that they don’t have any examples of impersonation voter fraud. In fact, they signed a court-binding agreement in which they admitted that even if the photo ID law is blocked, that will not increase the likelihood of fraud at the polls on Election Day. So there’s really no reason to have this election—and another one of the justices kept pointing out that the estimates of the number of people who are going to be disenfranchised could be way, way over 100,000 and really closer to a million.

The only Republican justice—and it is split three to three—and if there’s a tie, that means we lose, the challengers of this law lose, and the law will be in effect in November. The one justice who was asking questions, I think, really was getting at the nub of the issue. There is a provision in the statute that suggests that every voter needs to have the right kind of ID on Election Day, and he was pressing the lawyers for the state about whether the state could really meet that requirement. And very candidly, the state’s lawyers said that they could not meet that requirement. So I think it’s given us a little bit of hope that we may be able to get this injunction before November.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a comment from another of the plaintiffs in the ACLU’s case, Viviette Applewhite, 93 years old. She has voted in nearly every election for the last 60 years. She’s tried for years to obtain photo ID, to no avail.

VIVIETTE APPLEWHITE: Why is voting important to me? Because it gives you equal right to do things. That’s why it’s important. There are things that we couldn’t do, my race couldn’t do, when we could vote, we could do. This is what made it so important to me. And that’s why I wanted to vote in this year’s, just like I did before.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Professor Jessie Allen into this conversation, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. How difficult it is to get voter ID?

JESSIE ALLEN: Well, I think it’s pretty clear from the evidence that was put before the courts that not everybody can get this ID, and furthermore, that the people who don’t have this ID are not randomly distributed, that it’s generally harder for poor people, people who don’t drive, people who live in urban centers, to—they’re less likely to have the requisite ID already, and it’s more difficult to go through what you need to to obtain it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you have argued cases before, and you refer back in your op-ed piece, “Look at the History of Voter ID: A Case Cited to Support Pennsylvania’s New Voter ID Law Instead Calls It into Question,” you go back a century.

JESSIE ALLEN: Yes, well, you know, this isn’t a new thing, the idea that voter regulations that ostensibly are created to improve election integrity actually wind up creating less democracy, eh? And the irony here is that an 1869—an old case that the trial court judge relied on to uphold the current voter ID, actually, if you read the entire case, is shockingly overtly biased.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a case from 150 years ago.

JESSIE ALLEN: Yeah, 1869, probably not coincidentally shortly after the 15th Amendment had been passed by Congress. So, the point is that this is a very old story.

AMY GOODMAN: But what was so biased about that case?

JESSIE ALLEN: Well, in that case, the court upheld a law that created one set of registration procedures for the city of Philadelphia and a much easier set of registration procedures for the entire rest of the state. And basically, as if that wasn’t plain enough, the court proceeds to say that the whole idea is that this is going to keep the “rogues and strumpets” and “the wandering Arabs” of the city of Philadelphia from, you know, corrupting the election.

So, there’s really two things about this, eh. First, it’s distasteful to rely on a deeply prejudiced case to uphold the democratic principle of integrity, supposedly. But more important, I think that case shows you that, for centuries, you know, courts have sometimes been led to produce these abstract legal principles, when really what they’re doing is upholding something that’s very anti-American, very biased. And we don’t want that to happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a recent comment from Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. During an interview with the Washington Post, he voiced support for the state’s voter ID law.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY: The fact is, this is designed to make it very, very easy for someone who doesn’t already have an ID—and, of course, vast majority of people do, but there are some who don’t—and so, the law makes it easy for someone to get an ID. And if you don’t have one on Election Day, you can still cast a provisional ballot and then demonstrate that you are who you say you are within a reasonable time period thereafter. But there’s many different forms of ID that work. The state government is setting up offices, has set up offices all over the state to allow someone to obtain an ID for the purpose of voting, at no charge whatsoever. So, it’s going to be easy, for anybody who wants to, to vote, as it should be, but it’s going to be a little bit harder for—for the system to lose integrity, and that’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania. Vic Walczak, President Obama won Pennsylvania in 2008 by 600,000 votes. This law could disenfranchise more than 750,000 voters. So many don’t have voter ID. Is—photo ID. Is the state even prepared to be able to make this many photo IDs?

VIC WALCZAK: No. And, Amy, that’s the first time I’ve heard the Toomey clip, and I am appalled at some of the things that he said. Pennsylvania has the most stringent photo voter ID law in the country. There are many other states that have some form of photo ID law, but they all have some safety valve that will guarantee that people who end up not having ID on Election Day can still vote. So, for instance, in Georgia, anybody who doesn’t have ID can vote by absentee ballot. In Pennsylvania, you can’t do that. In states like Michigan and Florida, if you show up on Election Day and you don’t have the right kind of ID, you vote by provisional ballot, but you also fill out an affidavit saying you are who you are, and if the signature matches with what’s in the voter registration books, that vote automatically counts. You don’t have to do anything else. That is not the case in Pennsylvania. If you vote provisionally, that vote is not going to count unless you go out and get a valid form of ID within six days of the election. And as we showed at trial, if you’re starting from scratch trying to get a new ID, that’s going to be virtually impossible to do.

So—and the number you keep throwing out, Amy, 759,000, is a number that the state generated. That’s their own number. But it actually does not include another 700,000 voters where the state could not positively determine that they have some form of ID. So, even the state’s own numbers show that it’s over a million people. Now, I don’t think it’s over a million people that don’t have ID, but if it’s somewhere between half a million and a million, I would not be surprised. And if it’s a close election—and I think most people would say it’s likely to be closer than it was in 2008, when Obama won by 600,000 votes, it could have an impact on the election. And this year, the hanging chads of Florida in 2000 could be the provisional ballots of Pennsylvania in 2012, if we have a close election.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mike Turzai’s comment, the state legislator saying voter ID is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania?

VIC WALCZAK: Yeah, that may be the first honest remark I’ve ever heard him make.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Jim Cramer—actually, I’d like to put this question to Professor Jessie Allen—the CNBC host who tweeted that his father, a World War II veteran named Ken, would lose the eligibility to vote under the state voter ID law here in Pennsylvania because he does not drive, he’s elderly, he can’t prove his citizenship. Less than seven hours later, the Mad Money host tweeted that authorities with Pennsylvania’s Transportation Office came directly to the rescue of his father. Unfortunately, 750,000 people don’t have a son named Jim Cramer that they can make the same appeal.

JESSIE ALLEN: Well, that’s right. And, of course, that’s an old story. Often you have plaintiffs in the state move to do what they need to do to make those people OK. But you bring up a big point: this guy is a veteran, right? Well, apparently, under this restrictive law, a veteran’s ID will not prove your eligibility, because it lacks the expiration date that’s one of the requirements. So, you know, what presumably ought to be the best form of ID, people who served their country in the war, no.

AMY GOODMAN: Why, Vic, does this disproportionately affect the old, people of color, students?

VIC WALCZAK: [inaudible] who has ID in our society. And there is this belief, widespread belief—and I think it’s a middle-class phenomenon—that the vast majority of people have photo ID. And the truth is that the vast majority of people do. The most common form of ID is the driver’s license. But, in fact, all the studies that have been done over the last half-a-dozen years or so, including the one we conducted in Pennsylvania, shows that between 9 and 15 percent of the population in fact do not have photo ID. These are not people who drive. They don’t jump on airplanes and fly to Europe, so they don’t have passports. And it’s not that these people don’t want IDs. But we actually put a couple of lawyers on the stand as experts—these are folks who work with low-income and homeless individuals—and they talked about how difficult it is to get a photo ID if you don’t have one. People who are African Americans, predominantly, who were born in the Deep South, in the Jim Crow South, a lot of times their births were not in hospitals. And if they were in hospitals, they didn’t exactly care about recording the births of black people. So those folks can’t get birth certificates.

And what we found in a survey that we did—we polled 2,300 people, and, as Professor Allen said, what you’re looking at is disproportionately people of low income. If—people who make less than $20,000, about a quarter of them do not have the kind of ID that’s going to work. If you have a high-school education or less, more than 40 percent of those folks don’t have the right kind of ID. And if you think about who is impacted, it’s people who don’t drive. And where do they make you go in order to get this ID? To a driver’s license center. And in Pennsylvania, there are 10 counties where there is not a single licensing center. There’s another 13 counties where they have one office, but it’s only open one day a week. That means between now and Election Day there’s only seven days to go out and get one of these kind of licenses. So, there are an awful lot of people who don’t have the ID, who don’t have the documents to get the ID, and don’t have the means of transportation to be able to get to some of these outlying areas where you have to go to get it.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, amazingly, the Governor Corbett administration, Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania, initially made what now appears to be a false claim that 99 percent of the people of Pennsylvania do have the proper photo ID. When is this court going to hand down its decision? It’s September already. We’re weeks away from the election.

VIC WALCZAK: Yes, we’re about seven weeks away from the election. And, I mean, obviously, trying to predict either when the court’s going to rule or how they’re going to rule is a fool’s errand, so I’m certainly not going to predict how they’re going to rule. But our expectation is that they will rule within the next couple of weeks, two to three weeks. This is a court that’s used to handling election disputes on the eve of an election. They realize that there needs to be some certainty, one way or the other, for not only the voters, but for all the counties that have to administer these elections. So I’m confident that they will make a timely decision.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Allen, how this—how your state here, Pennsylvania, fits into the country on voter ID laws?

JESSIE ALLEN: Well, there’s been a quite a trend toward enacting these laws, but many of the ones that have been upheld have been much more liberal and reasonable, in the sense that they allow more kinds of ID, and they allow people to prove their identity in other ways. This is really, as Vic said, one of the most restrictive.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Professor Jessie Allen teaches at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, and Vic Walczak is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. This is Democracy Now!, We’re on the road in Pittsburgh. Stay with us.

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