By Karen Langley
HARRISBURG -- A statistician hired by challengers of the Pennsylvania voter ID law testified Tuesday that hundreds of thousands of registered voters lack a driver's license or other Department of Transportation identification that can be used at the polls.
The team opposing the requirement won an initial victory last year, when the courts found fault with how the state had put the law into effect and ruled voters would not need to show photo identification at the November 2012 election. Now, in a hearing that began Monday, opponents are trying to prove the law itself so greatly burdens the right to vote that it should be permanently blocked.
They worked toward that goal Tuesday through the testimony of Bernard Siskin, a former chairman of the Temple University statistics department hired by the challengers to compare databases of Pennsylvania voters and holders of driver's licenses and other identification issued by PennDOT.
Mr. Siskin found that more than 500,000 registered voters either had never obtained such an ID or held an expired ID that would not be acceptable at the November 2013 election.
His analysis did not examine if those people held another form of acceptable identification -- such as a Pennsylvania college ID with an expiration date or an ID from a nursing home -- or investigate if a registered voter had died or become ineligible. That was a focus of the questioning by Alicia Hickok, an attorney for the state, who at one point showed the court that former state senator Vincent Fumo was still listed as an active voter despite his imprisonment on felony convictions.
An attorney for the challengers questioned Mr. Siskin about criticisms of his work by an expert hired by the state. That statistician, William Wecker, reported that he had examined the records for the more than 500,000 voters Mr. Siskin said lack identification issued by PennDOT and found that some had died, could be eligible for another form of acceptable identification, might be ineligible because of conviction or had voted absentee the last time they voted. The total of the estimates came to more than 140,000 voters.
But even without those voters, the challengers said, the number of voters who lack acceptable identification under Mr. Siskin's analysis remains in the hundreds of thousands.
While the state attempted to show that Mr. Siskin's analysis over-counted the number of voters without identification, the Corbett administration's central defense of the law is that any voter who wants an acceptable ID can get it. Registered voters without other valid identification can get a free ID at a PennDOT licensing center.
"We certainly believe their statistics aren't representative of reality," said Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett's general counsel. "And beyond that, they don't matter, because the issue is access to IDs, and the access is available."
Mr. Siskin also testified that his analysis showed the absence of PennDOT-issued identification does not fall evenly among the electorate. Voters who are college-aged or elderly had a higher rate of lacking identification than the middle-aged, while black, Hispanic and Asian voters were more likely to lack identification than whites.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 1-717-787-2141.