Political Scientist Keith Reeves '88 Reacts to Latest Ruling on Pa. Voter ID Law

by Celina De León
Keith Reeves teaching honors seminar
Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Swarthmore's Center for Social and Policy Studies Keith Reeves '88

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson Jr. today ordered that Pa. voters can cast a ballot without photo identification during this year's presidential election. Under Simpson's ruling on Act 18, the state's new voter identification statute, Pa. voters can be asked to produce the newly required photo IDs at the Nov. polls, but can vote if they do not have them. Act 18 could still go into effect at a later date and it could also be appealed to the state Supreme Court.  

"I am relieved that Judge Simpson postponed the voter identification requirement for this year's election but this law is the modern, contemporary equivalent of a poll tax," says Keith Reeves '88, associate professor of political science and director of Swarthmore's Center for Social and Policy Studies (CSPS). 

Last month, the state Supreme Court appealed Simpson's ruling in August which found no undue burden was placed on citizens to obtain voter identification in Pa. The state's high court ordered Simpson to determine by Oct. 2 whether the law was being implemented in ways that ensure no voters will be disenfranchised. Simpson said today he was not convinced that there would not be voter disenfranchisement this election.

Profiled in the upcoming issue of The Bulletin due out this week, Reeves gathered a research team, including Ellen Donnelly '10, a CSPS research associate and joint political science and criminal justice Ph.D. degree candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, to embark on the only known effort to quantify what effects the state's new voter requirements will bear on actual voters. Until Reeves' report, impact surveys conducted in Pa. had relied on samples of registered voters. Reeves and his team surveyed Philadelphia voters in real-time during Pennsylvania's primary election in April. His report, which was included in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus Amicus Brief submitted against the Commonwealth, is based on the gathered responses of 277 voters at the primary polls - only five percent of which were first-time voters.

Reeves found the following:

·        Some 59 percent reported possessing a driver's license.

·        Of those surveyed over age 60, approximately half did not possess a driver's license.

·        4 percent  -- all individuals of color -- did not possess any of the required forms of photo ID.

·        Approximately 83 percent reported a 2011 total family income that fell below the state's median household income of $50,398, and 25 percent of the surveyed voters reported a 2011 total family income of less than $15,000.

·        Arbitrary enforcement of the law also was evident, according to the survey results. Just 59 percent of survey respondents reported being asked for an ID.

"Our exit poll results highlight the disparate impact the photo ID statute would have had on Pa. residents in Nov.  It is patently clear that those who are seniors, low-income, and persons of color would have faced significant obstacles on Election Day," says Reeves. 

Coverage of Reeves' survey findings appeared in The Delaware County Daily TimesPhiladelphia Daily News, The Philadelphia Tribune, and Philadelphia City Paper