Closing arguments conclude in case over Pennsylvania's voter ID law
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HARRISBURG -- Closing arguments concluded this afternoon in the lawsuit seeking to halt the new voter ID requirement, setting the case up for a timeline the judge said should allow a final decision before the November elections.
Much of the six days of testimony in the Commonwealth Court were occupied with questioning by the groups challenging the law, as they presented people who they said might be prevented from voting and experts who testified that many people lack acceptable identification and that voter fraud is extremely rare. In his closing argument, Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said the state has shown no interest justifying a law that he said could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people.
He argued the law puts an uneven burden on different groups of people, drawing upon testimony from individuals and data from a survey commissioned of Pennsylvania residents to conclude that people who are poor, uneducated, Hispanic, female, and elderly are less likely than others to have identification meeting the requirements of the law.
When faced with a witness who lacks the documents needed to obtain state identification, attorneys for the state have asked questions designed to show the person could still get a new form of identification, which is still under development. Mr. Walczak contended in his closing argument that the state cannot guarantee it will reach all voters with the new ID.
"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."
In his closing defense of the law, Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley said that each of the witnesses who spoke about their lack of documents has the information needed to receive an ID from the Department of State. He said the requirements of the law apply equally to all people and that the rigor of going to a Department of Transportation licensing center to obtain an ID is no greater than that of going to the polls to vote.
"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.
Mr. Cawley also argued that halting implementation of the voter ID law would cause confusion and waste the resources of the state and other groups working to educate voters.
Judge Robert Simpson said he plans to render a decision in the week beginning Aug. 13, leaving enough time, he said, for Supreme Court appeals before the November elections.
First Published August 2, 2012 2:54 pm