Pennsylvania high court sends back voter ID law

Pennsylvania's voter ID law has been sent back to lower court. The court must prove that the law does not disenfranchise poor and minority voters -- or it will be struck down.

Kai Ryssdal: In Harrisburg, Penn., today something of a non-decision decision by the state supreme court. Pennsylvania's new voter ID law was on the docket. It got kicked downstairs, if you will, for reconsideration by a lower court about whether it should take effect before Election Day. The law's just one of several that have passed in Republican-controlled states the past couple of years -- in theory to protect the integrity of the ballot box. Or, if you ask opponents, to disenfranchise minorities and the poor

From the Wealth and Poverty Desk, Shereen Marisol Meraji has more.


Shereen Marisol Meraji: Pennsylvania's voter ID law has been on the books since March. And, since March, Rev. Richard Freeman has been helping folks get photo IDs ahead of the November election.

Richard Freeman: Today, literally, I just helped someone get a birth certificate from the state of Connecticut.

Freeman says that birth certificate cost $57, plus an extra $12 to have it shipped quickly. To get what the State of Pennsylvania calls a secure ID -- that's one you can use to open a bank account, buy alcohol, and vote -- you need to have your birth certificate with a raised seal, your Social Security card, and proof of residence,  like a water bill.  And, you need to go to the Pennsylvania's equivalent of the DMV to get it. Pastor Freeman, says sitting at the DMV -- sometimes for hours -- can take a bite out of your paycheck.

Freeman: For most of us, we may say, eh, what's 60 bucks? What's 30 bucks? But for people who earn minimum wage, in our service driven economy, that's a lot of money.

And he adds that cost will discourage people from going to the polls. Carol Aichele is the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the top elections official. Aichele says she thinks the opposite will happen this November.

Carol Aichele: I think some of the discussion that has taken place with respect to voter ID and the election will drive up the numbers of those participating in an election.

And she says Pastor Freeman didn't need to pay all that money to get a birth certificate sent from Connecticut. A couple of weeks ago the state started issuing special photo IDs -- just for voting. And she says those IDs are free but you still need to go to the DMV to get one.

I asked Pastor Freeman, whose organization has helped about 300 people get IDs since March, if he heard the state was issuing free IDs for people without documentation.

Freeman: Uh, have not and that's part of the challenge of what's going on in the commonwealth that this is a very fluid process and its happening and changing right before our eyes.

And it could change again  if the lower Pennsylvania court is unable to prove the law won't disenfranchise voters, registered Pennsylvanians might be able to show up to the polls without a photo ID this November.

I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji for Marketplace.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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