HARRISBURG -- Attorneys seeking to delay the new voter ID requirement until after the November elections called as their final witness a professor who testified that voter fraud is "exceedingly rare" in Pennsylvania and the nation.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson allowed Lorraine Minnite, an associate professor at Rutgers University, to speak extensively about her research on voter fraud despite an objection by an attorney for the state. Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley said the existence of voter fraud was not in dispute because of a legal agreement stating both sides know of no cases in Pennsylvania.
The testimony concluded six days of evidence in a bid to delay implementation of the new voter ID law until after the upcoming elections. The parties challenging the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, argue that requiring an approved form of photo identification at the polls will disenfranchise eligible voters. Attorneys for the state have presented a new form of identification, still being developed, as a solution for voters who cannot obtain a birth certificate or other key document.
Ms. Minnite, the author of an academic book titled "The Myth of Voter Fraud," told the court she has researched illegitimate voting and efforts to curb it since becoming interested in electoral problems after the 2000 presidential contest. After searching federal indictments, scouring news reports and writing to election and law enforcement officials, Ms. Minnite said she concluded that intentional corruption of elections by voters is "exceedingly rare."
"I'm just not persuaded in the absence of evidence it exists," she said.
She disputed an argument -- made by Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, the state's top elections official -- that the absence of evidence of voter fraud results from prosecutors focusing their attention on other crimes. Ms. Minnite cited an effort by the U.S. Department of Justice to target voter fraud during the administration of President George W. Bush. Of about 197 million ballots cast in the 2002 and 2004 federal elections, she said, 26 voters were convicted or pleaded guilty to an election crime, though none for impersonating another voter.
Under questioning by Mr. Cawley, Ms. Minnite said she also disagrees with the state's argument that showing identification is so commonplace it makes sense to require it at the polls.
"If you keep saying voting is the same thing as buying a beer, people start to think about it that way," she said. "When we're talking about voting rights, the bar actually should be higher."
Attorneys are expected to deliver their closing arguments today. Judge Simpson has said he expects to issue a decision by mid-August to allow time for Supreme Court appeals before the elections.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141.