To address a problem that critics claim does not exist, Pennsylvania is set to require voter identification at the polling booth. Republicans supporting the voter ID requirements claim that voter fraud is a serious problem. Democrats claim that the real motivation is to suppress turnout among the poor and minorities who may not have ready access to ID.
The ACLU has filed suit to stop the law and appeared in court on Wednesday. In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder the U.S. Justice Department is now investigating the Pennsylvania law to see if it disproportionally harms minorities.
Pennsylvania now stands at the strict end of a continuum of voter ID requirements found in 33 states, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
The Justice Department challenge in this case is distinctive, Collin Levy at the Wall Street Journal notes, since Southern states covered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act require preclearance to make changes in their voting laws. Pennsylvania does not, because it was not targeted by the 1965 act.
"While challenges to states' Voter ID law have been making similar headlines in Florida and Texas, this is the first time the Justice Department may challenge a voter ID law in a state not required by the 1965 Voting Rights Acts to get federal preclearance for changes to its voting laws," Levy wrote. "Under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department can look into allegations of voter disenfranchisement, but if it wants to follow through in Pennsylvania, it will have to take the state to court for enforcement."
The lead plaintiff for the ACLU suit is 93-year Viviette Applewhite, who can't get an ID. As Ken O'Brien reports at the Ozone, "Viviette doesn’t drive — never has. So, to get an ID she has to present a birth certificate. But, ever since she had her purse stolen several years ago she hasn’t had a copy of her birth certificate. She did apply for a copy, she even paid the fee. But she still hasn’t got it. So, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite was facing not being able to vote for president for the first time since 1960."
O'Brien's report did not clarify which state has failed to issue her a new birth certificate, or what efforts she has made to follow up.
Earlier this month, Eric Holder spoke at the NAACP convention and castigated voter ID laws as "poll taxes," Talking Points Memo reported. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes," Holder said.
Holder's challenge to the Pennsylvania law is tinged with irony. In April, Breitbart.com gadfly James O'Keefe sent a film crew to Holder's precinct, and filmed a man being offered Holder's ballot by the poll worker, who insisted that he did not need an ID to vote the attorney general's ballot.
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].