Arguments conclude in Pa. voter ID case
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HARRISBURG -- Groups challenging the new voter ID law made their final case Thursday, arguing that requiring photo identification at the polls could disenfranchise many Pennsylvania voters but particularly those who are poor, uneducated, Hispanic and female.
But the state -- in its most extensive defense of why the law should be in effect for the November elections -- countered that the requirement to show photo identification applies equally to all voters. While some people may need to go through the effort of obtaining identification, said Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley, that does not make the law unconstitutional.
"To be sure, voters do share some responsibility to obtain an ID and to get themselves to the polls," Mr. Cawley said. "The law does not require the commonwealth to eliminate all inconveniences."
At the close of the seventh and final day of the hearing, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson acknowledged again that, whatever his conclusion, it surely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. He said he expects to render a decision during the week of Aug. 13 -- leaving enough time, he said, for a final decision before Election Day.
The legislation requiring voters to show an approved form of photo identification was ushered to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett over vocal opposition from Democrats, who said it would present an obstacle to minorities and the elderly.
In closing remarks for challengers of the law, Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, relied on the results of a commissioned survey to argue that indeed would be the case. The study, designed by Matt Barreto, an associate professor at the University of Washington, found there are people without acceptable identification in every segment of the population, but particularly among those who are poor, uneducated, Hispanic, female, elderly and young.
While the state did not dispute the findings, beyond questioning Mr. Barreto about his methodology, Mr. Cawley argued in his closing that the law imposes the same identification requirement on every voter and so cannot be said to single out groups of people. He said if there was evidence anyone had been disenfranchised by voter ID laws in other states, then Mr. Barreto, who was an expert witness for the ACLU Foundation of Wisconsin in a voter ID case there, would have said so.
"He did not because there has been no widespread disenfranchisement because of voter ID requirements," Mr. Cawley said.
The state agreed before the hearing began that it knows of no incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and did not plan to argue such fraud was likely in November without the new law. Without such an argument, Mr. Walczak said, the state has no interest enacting a law that he said could disenfranchise many rightful voters. The survey presented at the hearing found an estimated 1 million registered voters lack acceptable identification, and the Department of State has reported that nearly 759,000 registered voters could not be definitively matched with Department of Transportation identification.
As examples, Mr. Walczak referred to witnesses who testified about their efforts to obtain acceptable identification.
"These are not hypotheticals," he said. "These are real victims of the law."
When questioning those witnesses, including the lead plaintiff, 93-year-old Viviette Applewhite of Philadelphia, attorneys for the state sought to show that each is eligible for a new form of identification being developed by the Department of State. Mr. Cawley said each witness has the information needed to receive that document. But Mr. Walczak said the state cannot guarantee it will reach all voters through the new form of identification.
"The Department of State ID is not a magic bullet," he said. "The details are unclear, the release is uncertain, and it doesn't mean anyone can automatically walk in and get it."
At the start of the hearing, Mr. Cawley said the state need not produce evidence of fraud to show the law is constitutional. At one point Thursday, he told Judge Simpson that while it might be tempting to err on the side of protecting voting rights, state law does not support barring the new requirement.
"The petitioners may make an emotional appeal that may play well to the cameras and those unschooled in the law, but Pennsylvania law does not support their request for injunction," he said.
He also argued that halting implementation of the law would cause confusion and waste the resources of the state and other groups working to educate voters.
First Published August 3, 2012 12:00 am