First wave of results from Philadelphia shows potential problems for Nov. 6 elections
HARRISBURG, Sept. 26, 2012 — As a decision on the validity of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID continues to churn in court, state Sen. Anthony H. Williams today announced the results of a recent poll providing objective analysis of the impact of the law. And it doesn’t bode well for voters.
According to the initial report issued by Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, otherwise eligible voters — specifically people of color, seniors and lower-income citizens — well would be denied access to the ballot if Act 18 stands.
Williams, along with state Sen. Vincent Hughes, Reeves, and Benjamin T. Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), discussed the results during a teleconference today.
Act 18 is one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation and the state Supreme Court remanded the Commonwealth Court to re-visit whether the law, as is, could disenfranchise current voters.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said.
“These are facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
Reeves and his team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards and/or districts in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also targeted Allegheny and Butler counties and the Aug. 7 special elections.
Under the law, poll workers were required to request every would-be voter to show requisite photo ID during these “trial run” elections, to help prepare for the implementation of the law in November.
They took the random survey of actual voters in real time to investigate whether otherwise eligible voters would be disenfranchised by Act 18.
Voters were asked the following questions:
- In today’s election, were you asked to show a photo ID?
- Do you have these forms of photo ID? Would-be voters checked that which applied: Driver’s license, valid U.S. passport, U.S. military ID, employee photo ID – federal, state, county/municipal government, photo ID card from a Pennsylvania care facility, and/or photo ID card from a Pennsylvania college/university (fill in name of institution)
- In today’s election, what forms of ID did you bring with you? Would-be voters checked that which applied: Driver’s license, valid U.S. passport, U.S. military ID, employee photo ID – federal, state, county/municipal government, photo ID card from a Pennsylvania care facility, and/or photo ID card from a Pennsylvania college/university (fill in name of institution)
The voters who participated in the survey spanned various ethnicity, age, gender and education demographics. Highlights of those surveyed in Philadelphia:
- Some 59 percent reported possessing a driver’s license.
- In those surveyed over age 60, approximately half did not possess a driver’s license.
- Four percent — all individuals of color — did not possess any of the required forms of photo ID.
- Approximately 83 percent reported a 2011 total family income that fell below the state’s median household income of $50,398, and 25 percent of the surveyed voters reported a 2011 total family income of less than $15,000.
- Arbitrary enforcement of the law also was evident, according to the survey results. Just 59 percent of survey respondents reported being asked for an ID.
Analysis of the Aug. 7 special elections is pending and should be concluded soon, but the initial findings are troubling to anyone concerned about potential voter disenfranchisement, Reeves said.
“We knew from a lot of prior research that folks who are low income, elderly, residents of cities because of transportation issues will meet potential barriers in terms of voting,” Reeves said. “I was surprised by actual voters who were coming and pretty conversant and following what’s going on, still met with some obstacles and difficult in terms of going to vote.
“I’m concerned about the haphazard way that the statute might be implemented,” he said. “A lot of education and a lot of information needs to be done to make sure that particularly first-time voters are aware of this problem.”
Jealous, the NAACP president and CEO, said the report demonstrates that the number of voters who could be disenfranchised by the voter ID law is much more significant than the state has suggested.
“Senior citizens — the very people who fought and overcame the Jim Crow laws — are being disenfranchised,” Jealous sad. “This report affirms that the court should go ahead and issue an injunction.”
Hughes said he and his staff have seen the impact of the confusion on the new voter ID law while providing rides to PennDOT Driver License Centers so voters could obtain proper ID.
“The state is nowhere near ready to implement this law,” said Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery). “Most folks are getting mixed messages on what they’re supposed to do. They’re getting inconsistent information. It affirms that at best, the law needs to be thrown out and at worst, it needs to be postponed.”
These findings underscored why Judge Simpson should offer an injunction, Williams insisted.
“Under this law, contrary to all the carping from the other side, voter rights would be eliminated for some in this Commonwealth,” Williams added. “If we allow that to happen, we turn our backs on the democracy for which we are supposed to stand, for which millions have died and that tens of thousands of others right now are risking their lives, both home and abroad. That is simply un-American.”
Editor’s Note: A summary of the report is available here.
To reach Sen. Williams, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-266-6471. To reach Dr. Reeves, e-mail email@example.com.