The injustice the law claims it would remedy, voter impersonation at the polls, is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, as a recent Carnegie-Knight study showed. Very real, on the other hand, is the fact that those who lack a state-issued drivers license or other ID are typically minorities, the poor, and the elderly, who often don’t own cars.
In heavily Democratic Philadelphia, 18 percent of registered voters are without a current driver’s license, and nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 25 percent of African-Americans and 18 percent of all Americans over 65 lack the kind of government-issued ID that will let them vote under the new, restrictive state laws.
Getting such a license, especially for a voter missing an in-state birth certificate, can be a time-consuming process. In Pennsylvania, Republican House Majority Speaker Mike Turzai has made no secret of the partisan nature of the state’s voter ID photo law. It will, he told a Republican gathering in June, “allow Governor Romney to win the state.”
This kind of calculation is exactly what President Regan and Justice Burger opposed. Reagan made his views clear in 1982 when he signed into law a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Key to that act is its section two, which forbids any “standard, practice, or procedure” that abridges the right to vote on account of race or color. In 1982, section two was amended in a way that speaks directly to Pennsylvania today. A forbidden “standard, practice, or procedure” no longer had to be enacted with an invidious racial purpose. It was enough for it to deny “equal opportunity” to minority voters.