The Pennsylvania Senate on Wednesday approved legislation that would require voters to present photo identification to cast ballots, joining a number of states around the country that have passed such provisions over the last year.
The legislation still must be approved by the state’s House and then signed by Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican. Corbett’s office told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review on Wednesday “he would sign it,” if the measures reaches his desk.
In most states, African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to have driver’s licenses than white voters. So if minority voters don’t obtain photo identification by Election Day, this could complicate the campaign of President Obama, who will almost certainly need to win Pennsylvania to be re-elected.
Liberal groups are already promising to file suit against the legislation if it becomes law.
The news in Pennsylvania came a day after a circuit court judge in Wisconsin had suspended that state’s controversial voter ID law, arguing there is little proof it would prevent voter fraud and that it was likely to disenfranchise minorities and elderly people who don’t have a driver’s license.
The decision means that, for the state’s April 3 primary, voters will not have to abide by the new requirement that they present a photo identification to cast a ballot. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican and supporter of the photo identification requirement, is almost certain to appeal the ruling, so it remains unclear if the law will have any impact on the November election.
Wisconsin is one of eight states that in 2011 passed a law that required voters to present photo identification to vote. The laws, largely passed with the support of Republicans in state legislatures and GOP governors, are controversial. Democrats say the laws are intended largely to limit voting by African-Americans and other demographic groups likely to back President Obama in the November elections.
The judge in Wisconsin agreed with the Democratic rationale. Citing state data, he noted in his opinion that 80 percent of men overall and 81 percent of women in Wisconsin have driver’s licenses, but only 45 percent of black men and 51 percent of black women have them. The numbers were similar among Latinos in the state.
Twenty-three percent of voters over 65 in Wisconsin also do not have licenses, the most common form of photo identification, according to the state.
“Given the sacred, fundamental interest in issue, it is very clear that Act 23, while arguably addressing a legitimate concern, has not been sufficiently focused to avoid needless and significant impairment of the right to vote,” wrote Judge David Flanagan.
The suit in Wisconsin was brought by the state’s NAACP. The law in the Badger State is being closely watched, as it is the only one of the eight states that passed these provisions last year that is also a swing area, that either Obama or the Republican nominee could carry.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr