ACLU: Over 1 million Pennsylvanians think they have proper voter ID, but they don't

A new report commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union finds that many Pennsylvania residents who would not have the proper identification to vote in the general election are unaware that they could be turned away at the polls. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania, seeking an injunction to keep the new voter ID law from going into effect this November. Pennsylvania’s law, one of the strictest in the country, was signed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett in March. It requires voters to present a government issued photo ID before voting.

The report, designed to gauge the public’s awareness of the law, found that many are confused about whether they have the proper identification to vote. Key findings include:

*34 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters are unaware that a photo ID law exists

*While 98 percent of Pennsylvania’s registered voters believe they have a valid photo ID, 12 percent of registered voters lack a valid photo ID

*997,494 registered voters, and 1,241,255 eligible voters, incorrectly believe they have a valid ID, when in fact they do not.

*An estimated 379,000 eligible voters who lack a valid ID do not have at least one of the three underlying documents necessary to get one.

The report places particular emphasis on the group that incorrectly believes they already have a proper ID, stating “This particular population is critical to identify, as they are most likely to attempt to vote without the appropriate ID due to a misperception that they are in compliance…”.

The report says many people mistakenly believe their ID is valid even though it has expired, or their name does not match that listed on voter rolls.

“It’s significant because it means that there is the potential for a lot of people to show up on election day not realizing that they’re not going to be able to vote,” says Larry Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

“There’s the potential for a lot of unfortunate surprises on election day. The impact of this law could be huge,” notes Norden.

The report also found that the groups most likely not to have a proper ID include women, Latinos, the elderly, those earning less than $20,000 annually, and those living in urban areas.

Given the ACLU’s legal challenge of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, some question the report’s findings and impartiality.

“I don’t believe the results of the survey and I don’t trust the ACLU, which is the litigant, to do an accurate and objective report,” says Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a supporter of nationwide voter ID laws.

von Spakovsky notes that in states where voter ID laws have been in effect for years, like Georgia, very few residents actually end up applying for free IDs, indicating that most people already have them.

In Pennsylvania, the law does allow voters lacking the proper identification to cast a provisional ballot, though those are not counted unless the voter is able to verify their identity within six days.

The ACLU-commissioned report was written by Matt Barreto, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. The study methodology consisted of a telephone survey of 1,285 randomly selected Pennsylvania residents, conducted between June 21 and July 2, 2012.

Follow Mara Schiavocampo on Twitter @maracamp