Pennsylvania’s Racist Voter ID Law

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

One week before a Pennsylvania court judge upheld that state’s controversial Voter ID law by concluding the measure’s impact was “neutral and nondiscriminatory,” critics of that law released a disturbing study documenting the law’s discriminatory impact on voters in Philadelphia.

This week’s ruling by PA Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson rejecting a request for an injunction blocking implementation of the Voter ID law in November’s presidential election casually dismissed evidence that the measure would adversely impact the elderly, infirm, college students and racial minorities.

Yet, a geographic analysis of voter data in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest city, concluded that the state’s “new strict photo ID requirement may be in effect a racially discriminatory voting procedure…African-American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the Voter ID law…”

That analysis, prepared for Stephanie Singer, chair of Philadelphia’s three elections supervising City Commissioners, detailed how areas around Philadelphia’s major universities, like the University of Pennsylvania and in heavily low-income/minority neighborhoods, contained the largest percentages of persons now rendered ineligible to vote under the Voter ID law.

“This law has a racial impact,” Singer said about the ID law formally known as Act 18.

According to the analysis, the “spatial distribution” of persons lacking the required ID to vote is “non-random.”

While the analysis only examined Philadelphia, the researchers stated the patterns they discovered probably existed in “rural and even suburban” areas of Pennsylvania.

“I’m very much opposed to this law but I have to enforce it since it is the law,” Singer said about the measure that now requires state-issued photo identification in order to vote – even from voters who’ve utilized the same polling place for decades.

Stella Tsai, past president of the Asian-Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania, said she is concerned about the ID law’s adverse impact on Asian-Americans.

“Our citizens in Philadelphia face language problems already. This law will increase problems,” Tsai said. “The key here is for all Americans to be eligible to vote. We can’t allow laws to create barriers.”

Judge Simpson stated in his ruling that he was “convinced” that all eligible voters in Pennsylvania will “have their votes counted in the general election.”

Simpson’s ruling in this Voter ID law battle that has drawn national attention relied on testimony from state officials who promised that measures will be in place by early September to provide ID cards to all who need them by the October 9 deadline for voter registration or the November 6 election…

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia. 

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