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Pa. becomes second northern battleground to require voter ID

Pennsylvania this week became the second northern battleground state to enact a voter identification law since Republicans took control of the governorships and legislatures in those states in the 2010 election.

Wisconsin enacted a voter ID law earlier this year, but it is being challenged in federal court.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican elected in 2010, signed the bill into law Thursday, saying that it “protects a sacred principle, one shared by every citizen of this nation. That principle is: one person, one vote.’’

The Pennsylvania law requires voters to present a driver’s license, passport, an identification card from an accredited college or university in Pennsylvania, an U.S. Armed Forces ID card or an ID issued by long-term care nursing facility or assisted living residence.

With Pennsylvania being a potential battleground state in the November presidential election and also having a Senate race in which Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is up for re-election, the law may skew turnout, if it keeps low-income people or other groups away from the polls.

“I don’t think the impact is -- in terms of actual people -- large,” said pollster and political scientist Terry Madonna at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “But you cannot say that it will not affect some people; it will. There are people -- older people, indigents -- who will not have an appropriate photo ID. Do I think the number is huge? No. Are there some? Yes. Is there a lot of evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania? Not particularly, but some in Philadelphia over the years.”

“This debate in our legislature was hugely partisan and bitter,” he added. Three GOP state senators crossed over in the Senate to oppose the bill, he said; no Democrat in the Senate voted for it. No Democrat in state House voted for it; three GOP House members voted against it.

The law allows an eligible would-be voter who does not have an ID to apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for a photo ID to use for voting.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at the actual bill, so I don’t know much about the specifics, but I think the idea in principle of making sure that we have integrity in our voting process makes sense,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R- Pa., who was elected in 2010. He said he did not think the law would have much impact on voter turnout.

A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law said Thursday that 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidential election will come from states with laws that require photo ID, limit early voting, or impose new requirements on groups doing voter registration drives. Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program said, “These laws represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades.”