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DOJ to investigate Pennsylvania voter ID law

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is investigating a law [HB 943 materials] in Pennsylvania that requires voters to present photo identification before voting, according to a letter [text, PDF] released on Monday. The letter, which was sent in March, requests that Pennsylvania send the DOJ available data relating to the law, including the number of registered voters who do not currently have acceptable forms of ID, information on the demographics of registered voters and Pennsylvania ID holders, and any data supporting a March statement [press release] by Governor Tom Corbett [official website] that "99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo IDs." Opponents of the new law have expressed concern that it will disenfranchise poor, elderly and minority voters who may find it difficult to obtain a photo ID. In the letter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said that the DOJ needed the information in order to "evaluate Pennsylvania's compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting rights laws."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania [advocacy website] challenged the law [petition for review, PDF; JURIST report] in May, asking a court to block enforcement of the law in the upcoming November elections. The group claims that the new law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution [text] and will prevent eligible voters from casting their votes. Corbett signed the bill into law [JURIST report] in March. It was passed earlier that week in the House of Representatives by a vote of 104-88. Supporters of the proposed legislation said that it will combat voter fraud. Unlike the current trend of voter ID laws, Pennsylvania's allows voters to vote without an ID as long as they verify their identity within six days of voting. Absentee ballots will also only require identification by Social Security number. There are now 32 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, but the issue remains controversial.

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