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In Philadelphia, New Voter ID Law Hits Elderly Voters the Hardest

Over 80 years old and living in Philadelphia? Then there's more than a one in four chance that you don't have the identification you'll need to vote this fall, according to an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pennsylvania's controversial new voter ID law requires voters to produce a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID before they are allowed to cast a ballot. Critics charge that the law - which the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging in court - will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters and have a particularly heavy impact on older voters, who are more likely to lack the documentation needed to prove eligibility.

See also: Voter Identification - Discretion or Discrimination?

Only 11.7 percent of Philadelphia voters in the 35-to-44 age bracket (the group least affected by the new law) don't have a photo ID from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot), the Inquirer found after comparing computer data from the state agencies handling elections and driver's licenses. The law's biggest single impact, age-wise, will be on voters 80 and older. Of 44,861 active Philadelphia voters in the 80-plus age group, 12,313, or 27.4 percent, do not have a PennDOT ID. Among active voters aged 65 to 79, 19.5 percent are in the same boat, along with 15.2 percent among those 55 to 64.

True, under the law, voters may be able to use other forms of identification, such as current U.S. passports or photo IDs issued by nursing homes or other licensed Pennsylvania care facilities. But, the  Inquirer reported, most older Pennsylvanians do not live in licensed care facilities, according to officials with the Philadelphia Corp. for Aging and the state chapter of AARP.

Voter ID laws have been proposed, passed and challenged across the country, with advocates insisting that they're needed to fight voter fraud and critics contending that they'll suppress voting, particularly by minorities and older people.

In Texas, for example, the U.S. Justice Department contends that the long distances some voters will have to travel to obtain the proper identification amounts to a "poll tax'' and that the law discriminates against the poor and the elderly.

Philadelphia is a Democratic stronghold, and turnout there could be pivotal in determining who wins the battleground state this fall. -Susan Milligan

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