Pennsylvania Government Refuses to Turn Over Photo ID Documents to Justice Dept.
A voting rights lawsuit by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against the state of Pennsylvania is now likely, in the wake of Pennsylvania’s rebuke of DOJ’s July 23 letter requesting documents to determine if the state’s new voting ID restriction law complies with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other federal laws.
The letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez, sought 16 broad categories of documents that the DOJ Civil Rights Division needs to evaluate the new law, which critics say will disfranchise between 758,000 and 1.6 million qualified voters.
In an August 17 letter, Commonwealth General Counsel James D. Schultz rejected the document request, which he called an “unprecedented attempt to compel [PA], a state not within the purview Section 5 of the VRA, to present information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA.” Although Schultz was correct that Section 5 of the VRA applies only to 16 jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, Section 2 of the Act bars voting discrimination in all 50 states, including Pennsylvania, and gives DOJ the power to investigate situations like Pennsylvania’s.
If DOJ does file suit against Pennsylvania, Schultz wrote that it will rely on a 2008 Supreme Court case, Crawford v. Marion County Board of Elections, which upheld a law Schultz called “nearly identical” to Pennsylvania’s, which a state trial judge ruled last week complies with state law. But Pennsylvania may find cold comfort in Crawford.
Although Pennsylvania’s law may be “nearly identical” to the Indiana law in Crawford, the facts are very different. In Crawford, little or no evidence was presented that the law would create an “undue burden” on the right to vote, whereas in the case of Pennsylvania election experts estimate widespread disfranchisement, as obtaining a state Photo ID is more difficult and expensive. Perhaps most importantly, Pennsylvania Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley admitted under oath that the state was unaware of any case of in-person voter fraud having ever been committed in Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania’s Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said that the voter ID law would help deliver the state for Mitt Romney in November.
If there is no problem with in-person voter fraud, why come up with a solution to it that places any burden, whether “undue” or not, on anyone’s right to vote?
To Learn More:
Pennsylvania Refuses to Comply with U.S. Dept. of Justice Photo ID Document Request (by Ernest A. Canning, BradBlog)
Petitioners’ Request to Enjoin Enforcement of Photo ID Law Denied (Free and Equal PA)
Republican Voter ID Strategy May Backfire as Many Seniors Find Voting Harder (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Increasing Numbers of Registered Voters Could Lose Right to Vote because of New ID Laws (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
New State Laws Could Reduce Voter Lists by 5 Million (by David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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