Who Are the Voters without “Approved ID”?
The new PA voter ID requirement has become a campaign issue, the subject of a law suit that opened on July 25, the object of a US Department of Justice probe, and (if it remains on the books) a big factor in the results of the upcoming election.
For recent analysis, see “DOJ Probes Voter ID; Supporters Say No Fraud Has Occurred” by Kelly Cernetich, PoliticsPA, 7/24/12, beginning:
With the trial against Voter ID set to begin tomorrow, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has launched a formal federal investigation into the state’s ID law to determine whether it discriminates against minorities.
As the article mentions, the Justice Department has requested, among other evidence, “Any documents supporting Corbett’s March 14 claim that 99 percent of eligible voters have valid ID.”
It will be interesting to see if such documents are put forward, given that “The state’s PennDOT database shows that this last claim is not true, with over 750,000 voters lacking an adequate form of ID.”
Kelly Cernetich also writes in “More PA Voters Lack PennDOT ID Cards” in PoliticsPA, 7/5/12:
Based on a comparison of voter registration rolls with PennDOT databases, it is expected that 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters do not have the proper ID needed to vote in November.
This adds up to more than 758,000 people.
In Philadelphia, the number of people who lack IDs is higher – at nearly 1 in 5 people.
Despite those quotes, we don’t actually know how many voters lack acceptable IDs or whether the 99% claim is true or false, because as Secretary of the Commonwealth (and former Chesco commissioner) Carol Aichele is quoted as saying in a 7/3 PA Department of State press release (download here, 7th paragraph of text), “This comparison takes into account only voters with PennDOT IDs, and does not include voters who may have any of the other various acceptable forms of ID.”
In addition, some voters may have drivers licenses under names different from their voter registration. That’s a gray area, because I don’t think there has been any clarification of the criterion that voters’ names on their ID should be “substantially” the same as on the voting rolls.
If 91% of voters have a PennDOT ID, do 8% more have, or are they willing and able to get, another acceptable ID? Presumably the legal case underway will suggest an answer.
If anywhere near 9% of voters are newly ineligible to vote, that’s a lot of voters for the state—for Republican leaders, to be precise— to pare off the voting rolls, especially considering that this year’s presidential race is likely to be closer than in 2008, when Obama won PA by 10.3% (about 620,000 votes) and Chester County by 9.2%.
As we all know, Philadelphia’s predominantly Democratic majority weighs heavily in all statewide races, and Republicans would love nothing more than to cut down the vote in the state’s largest city.
As brought out in the 7/24 article,
“…a significant chunk of those voters – about 168,000 of them – are classified as “inactive,” meaning they have not voted in the last four years. It is likely that a lot of them are college students who have since moved, according to Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman.”
The 7/3 DOS press release is more precise: “One of the reasons a voter can be put on “inactive” status is if he or she has not voted in five years. A notice must be sent asking if the voter is still at the listed address. If the voter does not respond to this notice, the voter is placed on “inactive” status. Federal and state law require keeping an “inactive voter” on the registration list until he or she has not voted in two consecutive general elections for federal office after the date of the notice.” (So that can go on for a long time: 2 general elections before inactive status, and 2 more before ultimate deletion from the rolls.)
What about the claim that “a lot” of those inactives are (presumably current or recent) students? In an online comment to the 7/24 article, David Diano (manager of VoterWeb, an independent statewide voter database), says with some exasperation:
I can state unequivocally that Mr. Ruman is full of crap. Below is the actual distribution of inactive voters, by age.
age range | count
18-24 | 5,480
25-34 | 50,229
35-44 | 33,884
45-54 | 24,735
55-64 | 14,936
65-74 | 9,056
75-84 | 8,231
85-94 | 10,544
95-104 | 4,154
105-11 | 655
Obviously, 5,480 inactive voters in the usual student age range cannot account for “a lot” of the 161,249 total inactives. (The discrepancy between that total and Mr. Ruman’s figures is not alarming; often, VoterWeb, which Mr. Diano was doubtless using, has the most updated figures.)
In other words, there is really no clarity about how many would-be voters don’t have “approved” voter ID or who the current inactive voters are.
How about closer to home, in Chester County?
According to the strategically timed July 3 PA Department of State press release listing Mr. Ruman as media contact, “registered voters who did not match as having a PennDOT ID number” in Chester County were 17,928 active + 4,547 inactive = 22,475 total.
That is a significant number of “non-PennDOT ID voters,” 8.3% in a county with 270,765 registered voters as of the April 2012 primary election, so just a little less than the statewide percentage.
In West Chester, East Bradford, West Whiteland, West Goshen, East Goshen, Westtown, and Thornbury (for which I can get aggregate data), just as Mr. Diano shows, inactive voters in the 18-24 age range comprise 4% of total inactives—nowhere near showing that “a lot of them are college students who have since moved,” even if we added in the next age range as former students. (For some reason, inactive D’s and I’s in the 18-24 age group are 5% of total inactive D’s and I’s, whereas for R’s the figure is only 2%.)
Another of my own concerns, which I have not seen discussed elsewhere, is that many married or divorced women may have IDs with “substantially” different names than their voting registration. At each polling place, their right to vote will be at the mercy of the Judge of Elections. This will make the job of pollwatchers and legal advisers particularly critical, to monitor any rejections of voters’ ID cards and to sound the alarm on any discriminatory patterns.
In sum, to me, it is astounding that the state has made such important changes in voting procedures based on such vague information and a so far unsubstantiated “99%” estimate, and a claim of historical voter ID fraud that appears itself to be fraudulent.
According to Angela Couloumbis and Bob Warner, “The fight over Pennsylvania’s voter-ID law heads for court Wednesday,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/25/12:
ACLU lawyers … have asserted in legal briefs that “the real purpose of the photo ID law is not ensuring the integrity of the electoral process, but ensuring political advantage through the exclusion of qualified voters who are perceived supporters of the opposition.”
The PA Supreme Court, which overturned Harrisburg’s first redistricting plan, should also be perfectly capable of rising above partisan politics and overturning the voter ID law when the case, currently being heard by the Commonwealth Court’s Judge Simpson, reaches the highest level, as it undoubtedly will at some point before the general election.