Pa. voter ID law gets new hearings for next week
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announces a new form of county-supplied voter ID on Thursday.
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The latest court hearings on the state's disputed voter identification law are set for Tuesday, with lawyers for the Corbett administration and opponents facing off in Commonwealth Court on new attempts to halt the measure.
The court maneuvers come as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced a new way to issue IDs by county-affiliated community colleges and Kane nursing homes, and state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, the bill's sponsor, said voters without IDs are "lazy."
In mid-August Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson upheld new requirements that voters show approved photo identification at the polls, but a Supreme Court majority sent the case back down to him Tuesday, ordering state officials to show that its efforts to provide IDs are sufficient to keep voters from being disenfranchised Nov. 6. Opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union plan to put a new set of witnesses on the stand who were not involved in this summer's hearings to argue it remains difficult to obtain IDs acceptable for voting.
The high court said if Judge Simpson finds there is not "liberal access" to IDs or legitimate voters may be disenfranchised come Election Day he is obliged to suspend enforcement of the law.
Opponents filed a request for an immediate preliminary junction Thursday afternoon, arguing there is already enough evidence that there is not easy access to the state's new voting-only ID cards. They pointed to official state rules saying Pennsylvania residents seeking the cards have to apply at a PennDOT driver's license center, go home while their birth records are checked by the Department of Health, then return roughly 10 days later to get a card.
"The Supreme Court has set a high standard for avoiding a preliminary injunction that [state officials] have no possibility of meeting," according to the injunction request.
PennDOT and the Department of Health began using a new procedure this week to allow such ID applicants to have their birth records checked and cards issued during a single visit, according to the Department of State.
Mr. Fitzgerald, a Democratic opponent of the ID law, announced plans to have countywide branches of the Community College of Allegheny County and Kane Regional Centers issue free IDs to any resident. Applicants who are registered to vote, provide their date of birth and other proof of ID (including non-photo government ID, a firearm permit, a current utility bill, a current bank statement, a paycheck or a government check) will be issued college or nursing home IDs with five-year expiration dates.
The county tentatively plans to offer the new IDs within a week.
The Republican-supported bill said U.S. passports and IDs carrying expiration dates from PennDOT, for local, state and federal government employees, the military or from state-affiliated colleges or senior care facilities are acceptable for voting. Under those rules, he could not issue county government IDs to residents, but he could provide them from CCAC or the Kanes, Mr. Fitzgerald argued.
"This is something that county government is there to do -- run elections. Just like we do roads and bridges and courts, these are core functions of county government," he said.
Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman said it was likely the legislature's intent that only residents of colleges and nursing homes be issued their IDs, although the law did not specifically say so. He warned of unintended consequences of Mr. Fitzgerald's plan, such as the IDs allowing non-students access to college buildings or free rides on Port Authority transit.
"We would urge caution on this. We believe any registered voter who wants an ID is able to obtain one at PennDOT, but are heartened that most Pa. colleges have taken the step to make their IDs acceptable for voting for their students," he said in an email.
Other Democrats, including state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, have been rebuffed by the Corbett administration in similar attempts to allow legislative and neighborhood offices statewide help process IDs.
"I presented the administration with a commonsense approach which would make it more convenient for voters that lack the means to get to a PennDOT facility but my request was repeatedly denied," he said.
The moves came a day after Mr. Metcalfe, an outspoken defender of the voter ID law, disputed claims on host Mike Pintek's KDKA Radio show that voters will be disenfranchised.
"I don't believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right and takes on the according responsibility that goes with that right to secure their photo ID will be disenfranchised," he said Wednesday. "As Mitt Romney said, 47 percent of the people are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors' hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can't fix that."
First Published September 21, 2012 12:00 am