Critics of Pa. voter ID law rally as official defends it
Demonstrators at an NAACP-organized rally gather Tuesday on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol to protest the state's new voter identification law.
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HARRISBURG -- Critics of the new voter ID requirement rallied in advance of opening arguments today in a legal challenge, while the secretary of the commonwealth defended the law and said officials will comply with a separate federal review.
The Republican-backed measure requires voters this fall to show an approved form of photo identification at the polls. The Department of State has revised its estimates of how many voters might lack an acceptable form of identification, and last week it released details of a new voter ID card that could be obtained without a birth certificate.
In a hearing that begins this morning, a coalition of challengers will argue the law violates the state Constitution by burdening eligible voters who lack the required photo ID. Attorneys for the challengers have pointed to an agreement by both parties that neither side is aware of cases of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and that the state will not argue in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November without the voter ID law.
"What you're not going to hear about very much is voter fraud in this case," said Jennifer Clarke, an attorney for the challengers and executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the attorney general, declined to comment on the July 12 stipulation. But in court filings, attorneys for the state argue that legislators need only a conceivable purpose for the legislation -- not known cases of voter fraud -- for the law to meet its constitutional burden. They also write that the opponents have shown no credible reason that people without an acceptable ID cannot obtain one in the three months before the election.
"Voting, like so many other constitutionally protected activities, does not occur without each person sharing the responsibility to exercise that right," the brief says.
The law also faces a review by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, which on Monday informed secretary of the commonwealth Carol Aichele that it is examining whether the law complies with the section of the Voting Rights Act which, according to the department's website, prohibits voting practices that "discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in one of the language minority groups" identified in the law.
The Department of Justice asked Ms. Aichele to provide documents, including the state's voter registration list and its list of driver's licenses and personal identification cards, with each roster including full names, addresses, dates of birth, identifying numbers and race. It also requested documents supporting a March statement by the office of Gov. Tom Corbett that 99 percent of eligible voters have acceptable IDs and a State Department estimate earlier this month that approximately 758,000 registered voters could not be matched to a Department of Transportation ID.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the review. Ms. Aichele told reporters on Tuesday that her department will comply with the request.
The emotion raised by the voter ID law was evident on Tuesday as opponents organized by the NAACP and labor unions rallied on the Capitol steps before an inflatable replica of the Liberty Bell. H.T. Berry, vice president of an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local in Beaver County, said he believes the law is illegal.
Ms. Aichele defended the law at a closed-door press conference where reporters strained to hear over the chants of protestors. She said the state believes the law is valid and will pass any kind of test, and she described efforts the department is undertaking to inform voters about the law and make IDs available.
Afterward, Democratic legislators argued against the law, with Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, saying: "There's still too many kinks in this process. It is not ready to be implemented."
First Published July 25, 2012 12:00 am