Lawsuit seeks to overturn Pennsylvania voter ID law

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HARRISBURG -- The debate over Pennsylvania's new voter ID law is heading from the state House to the courthouse.

Groups opposed to requiring photo identification at the polls plan to file a lawsuit today in Commonwealth Court seeking to prevent the law from taking full effect at the November elections. The lawsuit will name about 10 people who lack the documents needed to obtain an acceptable form of identification, said three attorneys involved in the suit.

While voters were asked for photo identification at the primary elections last week, they were allowed to vote without it. Starting in November, they will have to show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government or a Pennsylvania college, nursing home or county or municipal employer.

The suit will ask for an injunction against the law while the case is being decided as well as a final ruling that the law is unconstitutional, said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, one of the groups organizing the lawsuit.

David Gersch, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the state cannot justify the new ID requirements without demonstrating that voter fraud is taking place.

"In order to take away somebody's right to vote, there needs to be a real problem they're addressing," he said. "The state hasn't shown that there's a problem with people showing up at the polling place and saying they're somebody who they're not."

Supporters of the voter ID law, including Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, have described it as a common-sense effort to protect the integrity of the voting process.

The plaintiffs in the suit include people who cannot obtain an acceptable ID because they lack birth certificates, said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which also is involved in the suit.

"That's really the most important document you need to be able to get the photo ID," he said. "There's skepticism, but people need to wake up to the fact not everybody has or can get photo ID."

A spokesman for the Department of State said the administration believes the law will withstand legal scrutiny.

"We feel it's a legally sound piece of legislation," spokesman Ron Ruman said. "Similar laws have been taken to the courts before and have stood up there, and we feel confident this one will as well."

Department officials believe the initial rollout of the law went smoothly, he said.

Democrats fought the voter ID law -- arguing it would disenfranchise the poor, elderly and minorities -- and promised lawsuits when it passed. Spokesmen for House and Senate Democrats said they still are considering legal action.

Starting in November, people without identification could vote by provisional ballots that would become valid if they verified their identity within six days.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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