State to open defense of voter ID law today

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HARRISBURG -- Plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law presented their final witnesses Tuesday in an effort to convince a state judge that it cannot be implemented without disenfranchising large numbers of voters.

Three witnesses -- all older women who no longer have driver's licenses and rely mainly on relatives and friends for transportation -- testified in video recordings played before Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the yet-to-be-enforced mandatory photo ID requirement, one of the strictest in the nation, would discourage many such people from exercising their right to vote. State officials say any registered voter who lacks an acceptable ID can get a special Pennsylvania Department of State voting-only ID for free through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

One of the video witnesses, Patricia Norton, 73, testified that she gave up trying to get a free photo ID prior to last year's presidential election because of an unpleasant encounter with a PennDOT clerk and chronic back pain that requires her to use a wheelchair or a walker.

Ms. Norton, who has lived in the Berks County borough of Womelsdorf for nearly a half-century, said a friend drove her on the 45-minute trip to the PennDOT licensing center in Shillington. The clerk said Ms. Norton would have to pay $13.50 for a non-driver ID card but, when she tried to pay in cash, the clerk said only a check or money order was acceptable. Lacking either, Ms. Norton left empty-handed.

"I was very frustrated," she said. "It was a painful trip, and she was not a happy helper."

Echoing other homebound seniors who have testified in the case, Ms. Norton said she is uncomfortable "imposing on people" for rides. She said she also has misgivings about casting an absentee ballot, which would get around the photo ID requirement, and prefers to vote in person.

"I want to make sure that I'm being counted," she said.

Other witnesses included Susan Carty, the newly elected president of the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, who said she detected "great confusion" about the law in last fall's election while fielding calls to a Philadelphia TV station's election hot line.

The state's lawyers planned to open its case today, and the trial was scheduled to continue at least through Tuesday.

Judge McGinley recessed the court at midday Tuesday because of a scheduling conflict.

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