State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Parsing out ineligibles in the voter ID numbers war

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 2, 2011 10:25 PM

The Pennsylvania Department of State is touting that only one percent of eligible voters in the commonwealth do not have the government-issued photo identification they would need if there were a law requiring all voters to show such ID at the polls. 

That figure may not be above reproach.

The Department of State came to its conclusion by using data from PennDOT, which issues driver’s licenses and non-driver photo ID.  PennDOT provided the number of IDs it has for all Pennsylvanians who are 18 or older.

Checked against a national survey of eligible voters, it would appear that only one percent of eligible voters in Pennsylvania don’t have ID. 

But Jan McKnight, of PennDOT’s Safety Administration, said the number it reported to the Department of State does not pertain only to eligible voters. 

“So is it possible that the number of people with IDs from PennDOT is not restricted to the number of people who are eligible to vote?  The answer is yes,” said McKnight.

That means the number of eligible voters in the commonwealth without the ID they would need under a state proposal to require it at the polls could be bigger than one percent.

Andrew Hoover, Legislative Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, has long said that this figure tends to get low-balled by proponents of a voter ID law. 

He said in Ohio, advocates for a voter ID law also claimed that only one percent of eligible voters in the state did not have government-issued photo ID. 

“And it turned out they had included people with suspended licenses, people who had moved out of state, and people who were dead,” said Hoover.

He said figuring out the actual number could show that there are more people who would be inconvenienced by a voter ID law. 

“We’re probably talking about hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who do not have current government issued photo ID,” said Hoover, “and they are disproportionately the elderly, racial minorities, people living in poverty, people who have disabilities, [and] students.”

Ronald Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State, conceded that it’s possible the department is including ineligible voters in its estimate of how many eligible voters don’t have ID. 

“There may be a few people,” said Ruman.  But he said it’s the Department of State believes the numbers are generally reliable.   “We feel that the numbers are pretty good in terms of the percentages of eligible voters who currently have a valid driver’s license or non-driver photo ID.”

One of the reasons opponents of a voter ID bill raised eyebrows at the Department of State’s one percent figure was because of a different figure given this past spring by state Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).  He introduced voter ID legislation, and at the time, he said that four percent of eligible voters in the state are without ID. 

Metcalfe says his staff is looking into the discrepancy with the Department of State’s number. 

Published in State House Sound Bites

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