In Pennsylvania, Voter ID Law Threatens to Exclude Nearly 10 Percent of State’s Voters

This post was updated on July 9.

Older Pennsylvanians who don’t drive could face a problem in November: They may not be able to vote.

According to data released this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, more than 758,000 registered voters in the Keystone State  — some 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s 8.2 million voters — do not have DOT-issued ID cards. Under the state’s new voter ID law, that means they may not be able to vote. And the law could have a particularly heavy impact on older voters, since they are more likely to lack the documentation needed to prove eligibility.

Viviette Applewhite, 93, joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP in a lawsuit earlier this year to stop the Pennsylvania law from going into effect. Applewhite doesn’t drive and lost her birth certificate and Social Security card — she’ll need both to get a valid photo ID — when her purse was stolen years ago. She finally received a copy of her birth certificate after joining the lawsuit but has yet to replace her Social Security card .

Proponents of voter ID laws say that they guard against voter fraud. But in a close race, as many political analysts expect the presidential contest in Pennsylvania to be, the exclusion of voters like Applewhite could make a difference.

In Pennsylvania in 2008, voters aged 50 to 64 went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, favoring him 57 percent to 42 percent over Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP nominee. Voters 65 and older were almost evenly split, with 49 percent voting for Obama and 50 percent for McCain, according to exit polls.

Other states have approved similar legislation. In Mississippi, for example, voters are in a catch-22: They need a birth certificate to obtain a valid ID to vote, but they can’t get a copy of their birth certificate without a valid photo ID. The U.S. Justice Department has put the state’s new law on hold as a potential violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Viviette Applewhite, meanwhile, may be out of luck. —Susan Milligan

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