Closing arguments mark conclusion of Pennsylvania voter ID case

No timetable is set on ruling from court

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HARRISBURG -- One phase in the running legal battle over the state's controversial voter ID law drew to a close Thursday morning as attorneys for the state and challengers of the law summed up their closing arguments after more than two weeks of testimony in Commonwealth Court.

There's no timetable for a ruling from the court, but whatever the result, it will almost certainly be appealed to the state's Supreme Court, attorneys in the case say.

Voters won't need to show ID at the polls this November, however. An attorney for the state said Thursday the commonwealth is OK with extending a temporary injunction now in place on the law.

The law requires voters to show a valid, non-expired photo ID. It passed the Legislature in 2012 without a single Democratic vote, but courts blocked its implementation during the presidential election later that year.

In the elections since the law's passage -- last year's primary and general elections, and the May 2013 primary -- poll workers could ask voters for ID, but voters were not required to show it, which the state has called a "soft roll-out" of the law.

Attorneys arguing against the law continued to make their case Thursday that the law, if fully enforced, would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people, many of them elderly and low-income voters.

Estimates put forth by the law's challengers varied, but were always in the hundreds of thousands. Petitioners in the case included the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and Philadelphia's Homeless Advocacy Project.

During the past two weeks, they put forth testimony from people who said getting to a licensing center would be difficult and from an expert who said the state did a poor job of explaining how to get identification in its advertising campaign about the law.

"It's time to put an end to this and enjoin this law," Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and one of the attorneys in the case, said as she concluded her arguments Thursday.

Those representing the state said Pennsylvania had made sufficient efforts to accommodate all voters, such as allowing any voter without a driver's license or any other form of valid ID, such as a passport, to get a free ID from the Department of State.

About 3,800 such ID cards have so far been issued by the Department of State.

"The Department of Aging has been reaching out specifically to these [elderly] people," said Alicia Hickok, a partner at Philadelphia law firm Drinker Biddle and Reath, one of the attorneys presenting the state's case.

Ms. Hickok also said the law would not keep hundreds of thousands from being able to vote.

"There are not large groups of such people," she said. "And [the law's challengers] have played fast and loose with their expert data."

Attorneys for the state have said they are not aware of any known instances of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, even though protecting the integrity of elections was put forth as the rationale for the law.

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Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com, 717-787-4254 and on Twitter: @KateGiammarise. First Published August 1, 2013 1:45 PM


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